Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora) and Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii) are two common woodland wildflowers that have just come into bloom at our place in the last few days. That’s Fringecup in the photo above, along with some foliage from Enchanter’s Nightshade, some May Lilies on the left, and a bit of Bugleweed in the background.
Both of these common plants are in the saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae) and people often confuse them, particularly when they’re not in flower. Now that they’re blooming it’s easy to tell them apart by their blossoms.
Fringecup has greenish-white flowers that are mostly on one side of the stem. The leaves are roughly heart-shaped, 2-3 inches across with toothed edges. Both the leaves and stem are covered with fine hairs.
Fringecup flowers are only about 1/4″ across the face, or just a little larger, with deeply fringed petals that usually turn back toward the stem. As they age they’ll turn from greenish-white to a shade of pink or red.
Piggy-back Plant has leaves that are more triangular in shape and a little smaller than those on Fringecup. They’re also more pointed on the tips. The plant is somewhat hairy, but less so than Fringecup. The flowers are brownish-red and appear on all sides of the stem.
Look closely at the blossoms and you’ll see what appear to be small bristles that give Tolmiei menziesii one of its other common names, Bristle Flower. This plant is sometimes sold as a houseplant, one of our few woodland natives to make it into that market. The name Piggy-back Plant comes from its habit of forming new plantlets (baby plants) on top of the previous year’s leaves. You’ll see this most often in late fall.
Both of these low elevation woodland natives grow in similar habitats. In our woods they’re growing side by side. In fact, the two vertical full-plant photos here are of specimens that were less than two feet apart. I’ve observed that Piggy-back Plant will grow in wetter areas than Fringecup, but they both like rich and somewhat moist humus-laden forest soil. They spread easily by seed and I’ve successfully transplanted both species from our woods into garden beds closer to the house where we can enjoy them more easily.