How to grow toad lily?

Hairy toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta, in bloom.

Tricyrtis is a genus in the lily family (Lilaceae) commonly called toad lilies. These perennial herbaceous plants, native to Asia (from the Himalayas to Japan and the Philippines), are generally found in shady conditions on the edge of forests. Of the 16-20 species, only two (and their hybrids) used to be commonly grown as garden ornamentals,

The flowers of toad lilies look exotic almost like orchids.

primarily for their orchid-like blossoms which open in fall after most other plants have finished blooming. But in the last two decades or so many new cultivars and hybrids were developed in Japan and the United States, including forms with variegated foliage and dwarf habits. No longer a botanical curiosity, many Tricyrtis species are commonly available in garden centers and local nurseries, with even more offered by specialty nurseries.

Tricyrtis hirta has attractive arched foliage.

Hairy or Japanese toad lily, T. hirta (= T. japonica), is a species native to the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu that is commonly used for its interesting foliage and orchid-like blooms. In its native habitat it is found growing on shady rocky cliffs and steam banks. It is hardy to zone 4, whereas many of the other species offered as garden plants may not be hardy in Wisconsin.

These are herbaceous perennials that emerge in late spring.

Hairy toad lily grows from creeping rhizomes, forming a clump of foliage that slowly expands over time.

The alternate, clasping leaves are arranged in a ladder-like fashion along the stems.

It is a highly variable plant that can reach a height of 12”-36”, emerging late in the spring. It produces arching, unbranched stems with alternate leaves all along the stems in a ladder-like arrangement. The 3-6 inch long, light green leaves are oval to oblong with parallel veins and clasping leaf bases. The stems often arch in the same direction, creating a graceful, flowing appearance. As its common name suggests, all parts of the plant are hairy.

The styles and stamens form a crown above the flower.

All Tricyrtis have flowers with six showy tepals (similar appearing sepals and petals), pouch-like nectaries at the base of the outer tepals, and six stamens and three styles forming a

The showy tepals are often spotted with purple.

prominent crown that extends beyond the perianth. The inch-wide, star-shaped flowers of T. hirta are white to pale purple with dark purple spots and a purple stigma. The flowers are produced singly or in small clusters of two to three in the upper leaf axils facing upwards. The flowers open in late summer to early fall, lasting for about three weeks or until a hard frost (both the leaves and flowers are damaged below 28 degrees F). The cylindrical seed capsules that follow the flowers eventually dry out and split open to release the small, papery disc-shaped seeds.

The flowers are produced singly or in small groups in the leaf axils (L). The buds (LC) open gradually (C), and the prominent pouch-like nectaries are very visible at the base of the tepals (R).

A bumblebee visits a flower of ‘Tojen’.

Toad lilies are best planted where their small, unique flowers can be appreciated up close. They make subtle, but exotic-looking specimens for the edges of shady borders, woodland paths or in naturalized areas. They are particularly effective in masses, but single plants make a good accent with other shade plants They combine well with other perennials that also like moist, shady conditions, including anemone, astilbe, ferns, hellebores, hostas, lungwort (Pulmonaria), and trout lilies (Eythronium spp.). Hairy toad lily can be grown in containers and the cut stems used in fresh flower arrangements. Bees and other insects will visit the flowers.

Grow toad lilies in part to full shade.

Grow toad lilies in part to full shade and moist soil rich in organic matter. This plant tolerates sun in cool climates as long as it is kept moist. With insufficient moisture leaves will become spotted and brown along the edges and plants may go dormant prematurely and not bloom in drought conditions. Plants will grow taller in moist soils, and remain shorter in drier conditions. If possible, site them in a sheltered location to protect the late-blooming flowers from early frosts. Plants can be covered during light frosts to protect the flowers and prolong bloom. Many of the toad lilies will self-seed and naturalize in ideal growing conditions.

Toad lilies have few pest problems, although rabbits may eat them.

Hairy toad lily has few pest problems, although slugs may damage the young growth and rabbits may eat the leaves and flower buds. Deer, however, do not prefer this plant. The fungal disease anthracnose leaf spot can affect some cultivars, but can be managed by increasing air circulation around the plants, minimizing overhead irrigation and removing fallen and symptomatic leaves to reduce the amount of spores in the leaf litter surrounding the plants. An aphid-borne mosaic virus that produces irregular spots and flower coloration occurs, but apparently little is known about it at this time.

‘Dark Beauty’.

There are numerous cultivars of T. hirta, as well as many hybrids between this species and others, especially T. formossana, which is only hardy to zone 6. Many of these are of unknown parentage, and even those listed as cultivars may be hybrids among species. Since T. hirta and T. formosana readily cross in the garden, many plants sold commercially as these species may actually be a hybrid; such hybrids tend to be much more vigorous than either parent and are generally hardy to zone 5. Some more common selections include:

  • ‘Alba’ or ‘Albescens’ – is not a single clone, but includes any seed-grown, white-flowered plant, so the vigor and flower quality can vary considerably, with some having pure white flowers while others are actually marked with pale green spots. Plants sometimes develop open crowns due to lax or fallen stems.
  • Foliage of ‘Minazuki’.

    ‘Albomarginata’ – is a strongly variegated cultivar with leaves edged in creamy white on 18” arching branches and purple flowers in early fall.

  • ‘Golden Gleam’ is a short (18”) cultivar from Terra Nova Nurseries with chartreuse foliage spotted with large grey dots. The leaf axils are tightly packed with dark purple and white-speckled flowers in fall.
  • ‘Lightning Strike’ – is a Japanese selection with bright golden foliage variably streaked with green and light lavender flowers on the 2 foot tall arching stems in early fall. ‘Minazuki’ is a more stable form of this cultivar.
  • Flowers of ‘Miyazaki’.

    ‘Miyazaki’ – a seed strain selected for its shorter, gracefully arching habit. With good moisture it is very florific, opening its numerous purple and white spotted flowers almost all at once in late summer and early fall. It has been the most successful of the toad lilies grown at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, WI, where the profusion of flowers really stand out in the garden. And it was given an excellent rating in a 10-year research trial at the Chicago Botanic Garden (zone 5b) because of its superior floral display, robust habit, winter hardiness and disease resistance. This cultivar had the best floral show of the 24 types studied in that trial, with more than 80% of the flowers open at once.

  • ‘Miyazaki Gold’ is a smaller (only 12” tall), variegated form with pronounced, soft yellow edges on the leaves.
  • ‘Moonlight’ – is an all-gold (often with tiny green lines) sport of ‘Variegata’ with purple flecked white flowers that grows 15-20” high.
  • ‘Raspberry Mousse’ – is a newer cultivar from Holland with dark red-purple blotches (which may actually be virus induced).
  • ‘Sinonome’ – is a hybrid of T. hirta and T. formosana that forms a large, upright clump and terminal clusters of purple and white speckled flowers. It is hardy to zone 5 and is generally not affected by anthracnose.
  • ‘Tojen’

    ‘Tojen’ (sometimes spelled ‘Togen’) – this robust hybrid between T. hirta and T. formossana (sometimes labeled T. stolonifera), produces terminal clusters of interesting flowers: the outer tepals are white with lavender margins and the inner tepals are clear white, without spotting. It is a tall plant with relatively large, bright green leaves on burgundy stems. It is hardy to zone 5, is resistant to anthracnose, and does not reseed.

  • Foliage of ‘Variegata’ emerging in spring.

    ‘Variegata’ – has lavender flowers and creamy edges on the leaves that fade to light green by the end of the summer.

  • ‘White Towers’ has white flowers (L) and spotted leaves (R).

    ‘White Towers’ – a more upright, vigorous selection of T. hirta (but often listed as T. latifolia or as a hybrid) with spots on the leaves when young. It has pure white flowers in the upper leaf axils and terminals that bloom earlier than most other toad lilies.

The species can be grown from seed (although they may not come true if other plants are in the area, as species can cross), while the cultivars have to be propagated by division in early spring when still dormant or from cuttings taken in late spring through early summer before the flower buds develop. These root readily from the nodes, even in just water. Seed should be sown fresh or will require moist stratification for three months.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


Download Article as PDF

Toad Lilies

As the light of summer fades, a delicate charmer beams from the Garden’s shadows.

Small, orchidlike flowers, speckled with white and shades of purple, sparkle above tall stems of glossy green foliage. Most other perennials have finished blooming. Trees are going dormant and preparing to drop their leaves. But this beauty is just getting started.

The only thing that isn’t lovely about this plant is its name: the toad lily.

You can see why the mottled coloration of the flowers might remind some unpoetic soul of a toad. And like toads, these plants prefer shady, moist places. But they have far more charisma.

Toad lilies (members of the genus Tricyrtis) are hardy perennials native to ravines and woodland edges in India, China, Japan, and other parts of Asia. In nature they grow amid tall grass, but in the garden they form well-behaved clumps, largely untroubled by disease or pests.

They can be found beginning to bloom in about mid-September in the English Walled Garden.

In 2001, Richard Hawke, manager of Plant Evaluation at the Garden, reported on a ten-year study of 24 kinds of Tricyrtis, writing that “uncommon beauty, late-season blooms and adaptability to shade give the toad lilies exceptional garden merit.”

The top performer in that study was Tricyrtis formosana, which has abundant purple-and-white blooms held high on 36- to 40-inch stalks. Another good species was the shorter Tricyrtis hirta.

At the time, toad lilies were not well known among gardeners. But in recent years they have become easier to find in garden centers and a number of cultivars are available. Most begin blooming in September or October, depending on the cultivar and the weather, and keep it up for three or four weeks or until they are wilted by frost.

Some, such as Tricyrtis formosana, have their blooms clustered at the top of the stalk, like daylilies. Others, such as Tricyrtis ‘Lightning Strike’, have their flowers marching down an arched stem. ‘Lightning Strike’ also has its green leaves intriguingly streaked with gold.

Toad lilies need soil that is rich in organic matter, part- to full shade and consistent moisture, according to Boyce Tankersley, director of Living Plant Documentation. “Those soils can’t be saturated like a bog, but they have to be kept moist,” he says.

The plants need no staking or deadheading. In good, light, organically rich soil, they need no fertilizing. A layer of mulch will help keep the soil steadily moist, although it should not be piled against the stems. Toad lilies are easy to multiply by division: A clump can be split in spring and be ready to bloom by late summer.

These plants do have one flaw, at least from a gardener’s point of view: deer and rabbits find them tasty, according to Tankersley. “I plant mine in amongst the hostas so the deer eat the hostas before they get to the tricyrtis,” he says.

All the shade standards are good companions for toad lilies: hostas, ferns, Solomon’s seal, sedges, brunnera, and lungwort. Or plant them among spring bulbs and ephemeral wildflowers such as Virginia bluebells. As the spring bloomers’ foliage goes dormant, the toad lilies’ stately stems will take over.

Color is all around in the Garden in September: crocuslike pink colchicum, New England asters in pinks and blues, golden waving grasses, purple callicarpa berries, the first tree foliage tinted with yellow and red. But toad lilies are the stars of the shade.

They are particularly engaging by a path or sidewalk where you pass them every day. As the days grow short and the shade deepens, their undaunted bloom keeps spirits bright.

Beth Botts is a garden writer and speaker who lives and gardens in Oak Park, Illinois.

Planting Instructions for Tricyrtis (toad lily):

Bloom Time: Fall Light: Part shade to full shade
Soil: Humus-rich, moist but well-draining, woodland soil Moisture: Average but consistent moisture
Planting Depth: 2 to 3″ deep plus 1 to 2″ of mulch Spacing: 12 to 24″, depending on variety

Upon arrival: Unpack box and check that you have everything on your packing list. Toad lilies should be slightly moist but not wet in the bags and should be planted within a few days of arrival. Plants shipped with the foliage intact in late spring should be given priority when planting, watering them in really good.

Soil/Location: Plant your Tricyrtis in a shady spot in humus-rich, consistently moist but well-drained, woodland type soil. Add compost or peat humus to enrich and loosen the soil, if needed, amending the entire area for best results. Remember to keep the soil light and airy for perennials, so cover them with loose soil and don’t pack them in after planting.

Moisture: Tricyrtis has the best growth when given consistent moisture. They don’t mind being wet once in a while so long as the soil drains good and although they are somewhat drought tolerant they shouldn’t stay dry for too long or they will fail to bloom or even go dormant from the stress.

Spacing: 12 to 24″, depending on the variety

Depth: Toad lilies grow from new growth points that develop along the roots and will spread underground to form a colony with each new growth point forming a stem. These growth tips should be planted about 2 to 3″ below the soil and then should be mulched 1 to 2″ after planting. This helps keep them cool and prevents them from drying out too fast, plus helps to protect them over the winter.

General Instructions: Enrich your garden with generous amounts of compost or peat humus and mix a couple teaspoons of garden food or bone meal into the planting hole. Plant the roots at the depth listed, then water in once. They should start to sprout after the soil warms up and then can be watered regularly, 2 or 3 times a week or as needed to keep them vigorous and prevent wilting.

Landscape Uses: Toad lilies add an exotic look to the garden in late summer and early fall, when not many other plants are blooming, let alone in the shade. The blooms are best appreciated close up, so plant them along a path or make sure there is a diversion to lead you to them. Combine them with hostas, ferns, Pulmonaria, Dicentra, Actaea (cimicifuga) and other shade plants.

Tricyrtis, Toad Lily ‘Blue Wonder’

View this plant in a garden

Category:

Perennials

Water Requirements:

Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Sun Exposure:

Partial to Full Shade

Full Shade

Foliage:

Herbaceous

Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us

Height:

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

Spacing:

12-15 in. (30-38 cm)

15-18 in. (38-45 cm)

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

Where to Grow:

Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone

Danger:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:

Blue-Violet

Medium Purple

White/Near White

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Mid Summer

Late Summer/Early Fall

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

Unknown – Tell us

Patent Information:

Unknown – Tell us

Propagation Methods:

By dividing the rootball

From seed; sow indoors before last frost

From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:

Unknown – Tell us

Regional

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Chicago, Illinois

Waukegan, Illinois

Fallston, Maryland

Dearborn, Michigan

Grass Lake, Michigan

Royal Oak, Michigan

Hopkins, Minnesota

Plainsboro, New Jersey

Portland, Oregon

Harmony, Pennsylvania

Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania(2 reports)

Garland, Texas

Newport News, Virginia

Kalama, Washington

show all

Tricyrtis Species, Hairy Toad Lily, Japanese Toad Lily

View this plant in a garden

Perennials

Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Partial to Full Shade

Herbaceous

Veined

This plant is resistant to deer

Chartreuse/Yellow

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

Unknown – Tell us

All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Medium Purple

White/Near White

Unknown – Tell us

Unknown – Tell us

Late Summer/Early Fall

Mid Fall

Unknown – Tell us

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Non-patented

By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)

From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse

From seed; sow indoors before last frost

Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Auburn, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama

Vincent, Alabama

Wetumpka, Alabama

Calistoga, California

Fremont, California

Monterey, California

Oakland, California

Pleasant Hill, California

Sacramento, California

San Francisco, California

Wellington, Colorado

Harwinton, Connecticut

Stamford, Connecticut

Keystone Heights, Florida

Wellborn, Florida

Atlanta, Georgia(2 reports)

Thomasville, Georgia

Chicago, Illinois

Grayslake, Illinois

Lake In The Hills, Illinois

Machesney Park, Illinois

Plainfield, Illinois

Quincy, Illinois

Salem, Illinois

Waukegan, Illinois

Winnetka, Illinois

Indianapolis, Indiana

Bloomfield, Iowa

Louisville, Kentucky

Mount Sterling, Kentucky

Franklin, Louisiana

Hammond, Louisiana

Lafayette, Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana

Bar Mills, Maine

Baltimore, Maryland

Pikesville, Maryland

Silver Spring, Maryland

Westminster, Maryland

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Duxbury, Massachusetts

Halifax, Massachusetts

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

Newton Highlands, Massachusetts

Constantine, Michigan

Garden City, Michigan

Saint Paul, Minnesota

South Saint Paul, Minnesota

Natchez, Mississippi

Raymond, Mississippi

Columbia, Missouri

Piedmont, Missouri

Auburn, New Hampshire

East Wakefield, New Hampshire

Jersey City, New Jersey

Neptune, New Jersey

Trenton, New Jersey

Averill Park, New York

Berkshire, New York

Brevard, North Carolina

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Hendersonville, North Carolina

High Point, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina(2 reports)

Cincinnati, Ohio

Marietta, Ohio

Butler, Pennsylvania

Morrisville, Pennsylvania

New Hope, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania

West Chester, Pennsylvania

Conway, South Carolina

Greenville, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Rapid City, South Dakota

Elizabethton, Tennessee

Hendersonville, Tennessee

Alvin, Texas

Austin, Texas(2 reports)

Colmesneil, Texas

Conroe, Texas

Frisco, Texas

Garland, Texas

Houston, Texas

La Porte, Texas

Missouri City, Texas

Rockport, Texas

Essex Junction, Vermont

Evington, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia

Roanoke, Virginia

Sterling, Virginia

Kalama, Washington

Shoreline, Washington

Madison, Wisconsin(2 reports)

show all

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *