Plant Profile: Piggyback Plant

The piggyback plant is a durable perennial low light plant, which will tolerate most household conditions. Its name is derived from the plant's unique reproduction method. Small buds develop at the base of each leaf where it meets the stalk, and new baby plants form on the mature leaf as if riding "piggyback." Even more spectacular variegated varieties are available, and they perform equally well in low light conditions.

Growing no more than a foot tall, the piggyback plant has bright green, hairy maple-shaped leaves. Each leaf has five to seven toothed lobes, which are rough to the touch. Plants grown in a low light environment rarely flower. When they do bloom, small greenish-purple colored flowers are borne on the end of long stems above the leaves. However, the flowers are insignificant and the true value of the piggyback plant is its beautiful foliage. The piggyback plant trails beyond its container, as the weak stems are strained under the weight of the leaves.

Other Names:
Piggyback plant's botanical name is Tolmiea menziesii, but it is also called by a number of common names. Mother of thousands, thousand mothers, pick-a-back and youth-on-age are the most well-known.

Native to the west coast of North American, the piggyback plant is accustomed to cool, moist and low light areas. They grow naturally under the canopy of large trees, particularly in redwood forests. This makes them fantastic indoor low light plants, as they cannot tolerate bright, direct sunlight. Although the plant doesn't grow very tall, it will slowly trail into a column, displaying its long, delicate stems. Piggyback plant is ideal for hanging baskets and planters. Smaller plants are best started in small pots and then transferred to 8- or 10-inch hanging baskets as they become larger.

Piggyback plant is happiest in heavy soil with good drainage. Any standard, high-quality organic potting mix will be sufficient.

Valued for their tolerance of low light which would kill many other houseplants, the piggyback plant prefers filtered shade. It can survive as far as 8 feet away from a well-lit window, but its recommended that you place the plant as close to the light as possible. An east- or west-facing window will provide ideal conditions for Tolmiea.

The piggyback plant will survive a wide range of temperatures, but it prefers daytime temps above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Nighttime temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the best results. The plant may be placed outdoors during the spring and summer months if the recommended average temperatures are maintained, but should brought back inside in early fall.  

Soil should be kept evenly moist and the root ball should never be allowed to dry out. Check piggyback plant daily and water as needed. If the top of the soil is dry to the touch, it's time to water. Indoors, the plant may only need to be watered once every two to three days, but keep a close eye on your piggyback, as environmental conditions play a large role in the duration between waterings. Apply water until it begins to drip from the bottom of the container. Discard any remaining water, as the piggyback plant does not like like wet feet.

Piggyback plant prefers high humidity. If the air becomes too dry, the leaf margins will begin to brown. Place a humidifier in the room with piggyback plants, or mist the air around the foliage using a spray bottle filled with lukewarm water. Use the finest setting to achieve a mist, and don't soak the leaves or use a narrow spray. 

Fertilize piggyback plants once per month during the months of May through September. Feed once every six weeks during the remainder of the year. Use a balanced fertilizer formulated for houseplants, following the manufacturer's instructions for dosage and application.

Pinch back old leaves and stems to promote new growth and keep your piggyback plant compact. Remove damaged leaves and stems as necessary. No further pruning is required.

Piggyback plants need to be repotted every 1 to 2 years in spring, as they outgrow their containers. Move to a pot which is a few inches larger in diameter and your plant will continue to grow. However, keep in mind that piggyback plants begin looking haggard after several transplants, so keep repotting as minimal as possible.  

Propogation is best performed by harvesting the small plantlets which form on the mature leaves of the piggyback plant. Fill 4-inch pots with a high-quality potting mix, pull off a few plantlets and place one in each pot. Tuck them into the soil, making sure it is firmly packed around the plant's crown. Water thoroughly, and then place the entire container into a plastic bag. Tie the top of the bag with a twist tie, and leave the new piggyback plant in a warm place for one week. Remove the bag and resume care as you would for a mature plant.

The hairy leaves of the piggyback plant may cause skin irritation in some sensitive individuals. Always wear gloves while handling and/or transplanting Tolmiea to protect yourself, just in case. Keep the plant out of reach of pets and children, as well. 


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