Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Toad Lily

Okay I want to start this off by saying I have yet to plant this little beauty, but it is one of the first plants to go in my somewhat ravaged garden this spring. It will need some shade, moist rich soil and yes, some water, perhaps I will use gray water since that may be all I have...due to the drought....But  we cannot let a little thing like the biblical proportion type drought stop us committed gardeners.

Many feel we should be committed but that is a whole "nouther" story. While sifting through articles about the infamous Toad Lily I found a really good one from a retired extension horticulturist in Arkansas, so I will include it  a little later on. The "Toad" will over winter as far North as Chicago....and yes I have readers that far North, only God knows why.......So, let us learn together....

Now would it not be great to have this cool little plant growing and blooming in our garden, and during one of our "Wine and Cheese Parties",  we casually proclaim to it's admirers "Oh Yes, that is my Toad Lily, very sought after in it's native Asia" . Of course I don't know if wine from a box and string cheese in plastic tubes is "haute cuisine". Oh Well, enjoy the pictures and the article.

Toadlily, Tricyrtis hirta, is one of a dozen species of Asian herbs of the lily family that are found in the Himalayas, China and Japan. This species grows 2-3 feet tall with gracefully arching stems arising from an underground root system. It has 4-inch long clasping leaves that are covered with a coat of fine hairs, hence the species name, which means "hairy."

A variegated form is available with each leaf delicately edged with an eighth-inch halo of yellow.

The genus name Tricyrtis is from Latin and translates as "three convexities." It refers to the three match-head sized swollen nectary glands at the base of each flower. The flowers are borne singly along the stem, where each of the alternate leaves attaches to the stem.

Established toadlilies may have as many as two dozen of these 2-inch wide flowers splayed out along the stem when they come into bloom in early October.

Individual toadlily blooms have six petals that are splattered with brownish purple blobs on a white background, giving an overall lavender effect. It’s from these spots that some English gardener made the connection with toads and burdened the lovely plant with its unfortunate moniker.

Above the petals, the anthers extend outward and surround the three-branched stigma, giving the sexual part of the flower the look of the octopus ride at the county fair, but of course somewhat smaller. If pollination occurs early enough before frost, an erect capsule will form.

Tricyrtis seems to be one of those plants that got misplaced in the plant shuffle of the 20th century but seems to have been recently rediscovered. While Bailey and other garden writers described it almost 100 years ago, nobody seemed to carry it until recent years. About 1990, Wayside gardens began featuring the plant, and today it’s fairly common in garden centers and nurseries. Dan Heims, a West Coast propagator, lists almost 40 cultivars of the various species.

Heims, who spoke at the 2000 Arkansas Flower and Garden Show, is one of a select group of serious plantsmen who have been traveling to Japan to acquire new and interesting plants from Japanese specialty nurseries. He tells of the Gotemba Nursery in Japan where hundreds of different toadlilies can be purchased by the rabid collector for prices up to $150 per plant.

Heims’ nursery specializes in tissue culture propagation and has introduced some of the best new types and is making them available to American nurserymen.

Toadlilies must be grown in the shade. They are excellent companion plants to hostas and other inhabitants of deep shade. Fertile, well drained, uniformly moist organic soils are most to their liking, but they will tolerate lesser soils so long as they don’t contain too much clay. Extended droughts will cause tip and marginal leaf burning. While the foliage will die with the first hard freeze, they are perfectly winter hardy as far north as Chicago. New plants can be had by springtime division or by terminal cuttings taken in the spring from new growth. Slugs occasionally mar the beauty of the foliage but are not usually serious.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired

Extension Horticulturist -

Thanks  for Stopping By and Enjoy the Life

Ralph Edge

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