There are several unusual things about the piggyback plant, least of all its unique name. For starters, it boasts a very unusual growth habit as it matures, with new leaves sprouting directly from the center of large, mature leaves at the point where the stem attaches to the leaf. This strange habit has earned the plant the nickname "piggyback plant," "youth-on-age," and "thousand mothers" plant (not to be confused with the kalanchoe of the same nickname).
Additionally, the piggyback plant is also notable for its lush foliage and the fact that it's native to North America (specifically, the redwoods of the Pacific coast), which is not exactly a hotbed of native houseplants. It boasts a medium-fast growth rate and can be grown indoors throughout the year, or plated outdoors in early spring if you reside in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 9.
|Botanical Name||Tolmiea menziesii|
|Common Name||Piggyback plant, youth-on-age plant, mother-of-thousands plant, pickaback plant|
|Plant Type||Evergreen perennial|
|Mature Size||1–2 ft. tall, 12–20 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Flower Color||Purple, purple-green|
|Hardiness Zones||7–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Piggyback Plant Care
Though its optimal conditions can be a bit tricky to master, piggyback plants are a very useful option for cool, humid rooms with decent light. These are tough conditions to match with many other houseplants, but as a rule of thumb, piggyback plants will thrive in the same conditions that temperate ferns enjoy. The plant will quickly brown and die if exposed to intense dry heat, and direct sunlight can also be deadly.
When it comes to displaying all your hard work, piggyback plants are an excellent hanging option for baskets. Over time, the plant will adopt a drooping posture, with its vibrant green leaves falling in a bright, eye-catching cascade. Leggy, loose plants usually signify a lack of light, so if you spot stems that are a bit droopy, try to increase the amount of light the plant gets.
Keep in mind, it's rare to have a piggyback plant that lives beyond about two years, even under the best conditions. Propagate older plants annually to keep up your supply.
Piggyback plants like indirect light or partial shade. They can handle some direct light in the morning, but should be kept out of the line of harsh rays in the afternoon.
When it comes to planting your piggyback plant, you'll want to choose a soil mixture that is loose and well-draining. It should retain moisture well but never become soggy or overly wet. Good drainage is important to the piggyback plant, so make sure to choose a pot that has ample holes at its base. Additionally, you can select a vessel made from clay or terracotta to help wick additional moisture from the soil.
Keep the soil of your piggyback plant constantly moist all year long and mist the plant occasionally if your home is especially dry. Never allow the plant's soil to dry out completely.
Temperature and Humidity
Piggyback plants like high humidity, but dislikes intense heat and dry air—try keeping yours in a typically-moist environment like a kitchen or bathroom. When it comes to temperature conditions, the piggyback plant prefers a forest-like environment, with average temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fertilize your piggyback plant once a month during its growing season with a liquid or controlled-release fertilizer according to label instructions.
Propagating Piggyback Plant
Piggyback plants are extremely easy to propagate, given their growth habit. To do so, take leaf cuttings that consist of a single mature leaf with its fleshy stem intact. Place the stem cutting into seed-starting soil and keep it moist and warm until new growth begins to emerge. Piggyback plants are not typically long-lived indoors, so it's a good idea to take new cuttings annually, at the beginning of the growth season, so you always have a mature plant on hand.
Potting and Repotting Piggyback Plant
When it comes to repotting your piggyback plant, spring is typically the best time. Take any leaf cuttings you need for future plants, then place the adult plant in a new, slightly larger pot with fresh soil. After two years or so, the adult plant will be nearing the end of its viability, so shift your attention to the smaller plants and set the older one outside in your garden or on your patio for the season.
Common Pests and Diseases
Piggyback plant's fleshy leaves are attractive to spider mites and aphids, so be on the lookout for the tell-tale webs on the undersides of leaves for spider mites or tiny green aphids on your plants. If you notice signs of an infestation, treat your plant with a mild insecticide or neem oil.