TOLMIEA menziesii (mother of thousands, piggy-back plant, or youth on age) is the only species of this genus. Its 4-inch-long leafstalks, rising from a main stem so short as to be barely noticeable, carry heart-shaped, lobed, tooth-edged leaf blades 2-3 inches across. The plant grows to a height of about 12 inches and a spread of 15 inches. Its common names derive from the fascinating habit of producing plantlets on a number of the older leaves. Each plantlet grows on the upper surface of a leaf at the junction of the leaf and its stalk. This extra weight bears down the slender leafstalks, so that many of them seem to be trailing. Thus, tolmieas look especially attractive in hanging baskets. Both the fresh green leaves and their leafstalks are covered with soft hair. The greenish white flowers are insignificant and rarely produced on plants grown indoors.
Light Tolmieas thrive in either bright or medium light. The leaves of those kept in relatively low light are a paler green, and the stalks of such plants tend to elongate.
Temperature Normal room temperatures are suitable.These plants are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, however. They will do well in any temperature down to 50°F.
Watering Throughout the warmer months, during the active growth period, water these plants moderately. Give enough to moisten the potting mixture throughout, but allow the top half-inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again. During the short winter rest period water tolmieas only enough to keep the potting mixture from drying out completely.
Feeding Apply standard liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the active growth period.
Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture. Plant three small tolmieas together in a 3-inch pot. Alternatively group four to six plants in a hanging basket. Move the plants on to larger containers only when they have filled the present ones with roots. Repotting can be done at any time of the year. Because newly rooted plants grow best and look healthiest, it is
advisable to replace older tolmieas rather than to repot them more than once or twice.
Propagation Propagate tolmieas in spring or summer. Cut off a leaf that has a well-developed plantlet on it leaving about 1 inch of its stalk attached, and plant it in a 2- or 3-inch pot containing a moistened rooting mixture of equal parts of peat moss and coarse sand or perlite. Make sure that the stalk is buried and the plantlet-bearing part sits on the surface of the rooting mixture. Keep the pot in bright light, watering only enough to make the rooting mixture barely moist, until new growth indicates that rooting has occurred (normally, in two to three weeks). Thereafter, treat the plantlet as a mature tolmiea. In another five or six weeks transfer it from the rooting mixture into the standard soil-based potting mixture. The "mother" leaf may remain green for several months, but it will eventually dry up and can then be carefully removed from the new plant.
Alternatively, the plantlet-bearing leaf can be propagated while still attached to the parent plant by a process similar to layering. Fill a 3-inch pot with the rooting mixture recommended above, and place the pot close to the parent plant. Use a short piece of wire (a hair-pin, for example) or a small stone to fasten the leaf down onto the mixture in the prepared pot. Keep both pots in a warm room in bright light, and water the leaf sparingly, just enough to keep the rooting mixture from drying out completely. Roots will develop at the point where the leaf touches the mixture. After rooting has occurred (probably in two or three weeks), sever the large leaf from the parent plant and treat the newly rooted plantlet as a mature tolmiea.
Tolmieas grow extremely quickly and the indoor gardener will be in possession of an attractive house plant only 5 or 6 months after the start of the propagation process.
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