bee forage wild bees and native bees

Bumble bee on piggyback plant

The piggyback plant is a Pacific Northwest native in the saxifrage family. It has bright red-orange pollen.

Piggyback plant, also known as youth-on-age, is a delicate little woodland plant in the saxifrage family. The species, Tolmiea menziesii, is native to the Pacific Northwest coast where it grows in moist forested areas and along streams. It is often accompanied by red alder at low to middle elevations. At the base of the heart-shaped leaves, buds develop that grow into new leaves. The new little leaf develops right atop the big leaf, giving rise to the common name.

The flowers are brown to purple and grow on a stalk above the leaves. Every year I look forward to these little harbingers of spring but, until this year, I never knew they had bright orange pollen. The flowers are very small, about 6 to 9 mm long, so you can’t see the pollen without magnification. But last week I noticed that all the bumble bees working these plants were loaded with bright orange pellets.

Honey Bee Suite

I’ve never seen a honey bee on these flowers, but the bumbles love them.
The long skinny parts of the flower are the petals. The sepals make up the flower tube.
The pollen baskets are so bright I can see them at a distance.
Tolmiea menziesii showing piggy-back leaf.
Tolmiea menziesii showing piggyback leaf.


  • Those flowers resemble gooseberry blossoms… fairly inobvious (?). The bumble bees adore them and even though I only have one bush, I am guaranteed a crop each year (assuming hail doesn’t pummel all the berries off). Like your piggy-back plant, the honey bees are never on it. I think their tongues are too short to get to the nectar.

    • HB,

      The flowers are very small, and the plants are about a foot high. The look like woodland ground cover.

    • Myke,

      No. The honey-leaf plant is in the Asteraceae family and the piggy-back plant is in the Saxifragaceae family.

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