Tricyrtis (toad lilies) are a shade-loving perennial in the lily family whose small, but beautiful and intricately designed orchid-like flowers stop people in their tracks. When looking for woodland garden plants that flower after the spring season, tricyrtis head a very short list. We urge our readers to stop by the garden on our Open Nursery and Garden Days to see our extensive collection or check out our online catalog to see our current offerings of this exotic plant.
The name tricyrtis comes from the Greek "tri" (three) and "kyrtos" (swelling, arched, bulging or humped) which refers to the 3 sack-like nectaries at the base of the tepals. The most common explanation for the name toad lily is that the flowers and leaves are spotted like toads. In addition, the flowers have warty, sack-like (saccate) bumps at the base of the flowers that are "toadish" to some. The bumps are actually nectaries. A variation on the common name is the hairy toad lily, referring to their hirsute nature. The Japanese have a prettier common name for toad lilies: hototogiso, which translates to "little cuckoo", a shy but attractive forest dwelling bird. Hototogisu is also mistakenly used as a cultivar name in the U.S.
A more infamous and blatantly false story for the name origin of toad lily is one that is widely circulated and appears in many prominent Tricyrtis publications. It has long been believed that tricyrtis is called toad lily because a primitive Filipino tribe called the Tasaday rubbed the scented, sticky juice of the plant onto their hands and arms before going frog hunting. The smell was said to attract frogs and the stickiness made it easier to catch them. This story is was part of the greater Tasaday hoax; an intricate plot by the late Manuel Elizalde, an advisor to president Ferdinand Marcos, designed to increase eco-tourism to the Philippines and to bilk money from philanthropists. This fascinating story was first told in the 1972 National Geographic documentary, "The Last Tribes of Mindanao" and the hoax was uncovered in the 1986 20/20 documentary "The Tribe that Never Was." The entire story was elucidated in the 2003 Robin Hemley book, Invented Eden. The Marcos regime has yet another connection with the toad lily. The Filipino endemic species Tricyrtis imeldae is named in honor of Ferdinand's wife, the infamous shoe-hound, Imelda Marcos. Many taxonomist now consider it nothing more than a disjunct population of Tricyrtis formosana, although the presence of Muslim extremists in the region have prevented it from getting into US cultivation.
The genus tricyrtis is an origin of Eastern Asia. Their native range runs from China, Korea, and Japan in the north to Nepal, Taiwan and the Philippines in the south. This corresponds roughly to U.S. hardiness zones 5 and warmer. In their native habitat they live in partial shade at the edges of forests. Which is where there is a break in the tree cover. They are also commonly found on the sloped grounds along creek beds and at the edges of road and trail clearings. Tricyrtis live in a wide range of conditions from mountainous regions such as the Himalayas to low-lying, humid, sub-tropical forests. They are always found in regions that receive plentiful rainfall.
History of Tricyrtis in the Garden
Prior to 1784, the history of tricyrtis use in Asia is clouded. The large number of Japanese cultivars suggests that it has been in use for quite a while in Japan where it is a popular garden plant, potted plant, and cut flower. The first European to document a Tricyrtis species was Carl Peter Thunberg, a Swedish surgeon and naturalist who has been called the "Japanese Linnaeus". In mid 1776, he accompanied a Dutch businessman to the shogun in Edo (the old name of Tokyo). During his tour of the countryside, he was able to collect many Japanese plants. His scientific activities resulted in the first detailed description of the flora of Japan called Flora Japonica, published in 1784. He described both native species and species that had escaped from Japanese gardens. In it he writes a description of a plant which he called Uvularia hirta but he did not describe the flower. It is widely believed that this plant is the first published description of Tricyrtis hirta. Thunberg did not collect it or bring it into cultivation.
Forty years later, Nathaniel Wallich, a Danish surgeon and botanist, traveled to India, Nepal, West Hindustan, and lower Burma to catalog the flora and natural vegetation. He published a two volume treatise on his expeditions called, Tentamen Floræ Nepalensis Illustratæ. In volume 2 of his book he described a new plant, Tricyrtis pilosa. Wallich created the genus name Tricyrtis after the plants' unusual nectaries. Wallich also made the connection between his Tricyrtis pilosa and Thunberg's Uvularia hirta but he incorrectly concluded that they were the same plant.
Twenty four years after Wallich, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of the greatest British botanists and explorers of the 19th century, and Charles Darwin's closest friend, retraced Wallich's footsteps. In 1850, he collected Wallich's Tricyrtis pilosa while on an expedition to the Himalayas and the Sikkim province of India. He sent seeds of it to his father, Sir William Jackson Hooker, who was the director of Kew gardens in England. In December 1855, W.J. Hooker wrote an article about Wallich's and his son's discovery in Curtis' Botanical magazine (Vol. 82, Tab. 4955). This is the first written account of Tricyrtis cultivated in Europe.
The man credited with rediscovering Thunberg's plant was Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist and traveler best known for introducing tea plants from China to India. While in Japan from 1860-1862, Robert Fortune found Thunberg's Uvularia hirta, and recognized its relationship to Wallich's Tricyrtis pilosa. Fortune then sent it to English nurseryman Mr. Standish at a nursery in Bagshot England, thus introducing Tricyrtis hirta into cultivation in the west. In 1863, W.J. Hooker renamed Uvularia hirta to Tricyrtis hirta, published a description of it in Curtis' Botanical Magazine (Vol. 89 Tab. 5355) and declared it a separate species from Wallich's Tricyrtis pilosa.
By 1881, the genus Tricyrtis was still only rarely cultivated in English gardens and was a merely a collectors item in botanical gardens. By 1890 it had moved into cultivation in America in a Cambridge, Massachusetts garden, and proved hardy. The distinguished horticulturist G. W. Oliver grew it in Washington DC but found that the protracted droughts in Washington were "un-favorable to the plant which matures and flowers so late in the season. By November first, when the flowers are at their best, the leaves were considerably browned." He considered tricyrtis to be "rather useless as a garden subject." By the late 1890's there are stories in the garden section of the New Zealand Star newspaper on how to cultivate toad lilies in the garden. By 1917, Tricyrtis hirta was growing happily at the New York Botanical Garden and by the 1950's it was available from specialty plant nurseries in the U.S. Prior to the mid-1990's, tricyrtis was under-used and under-appreciated in the U.S. Starting in the mid 90's, tricyrtis experienced a surge in popularity that still continues today. The upswing in popularity in the 90's was due in part to a decade long toad lily evaluation program run by the Chicago Botanic Garden. They evaluated 24 common varieties and published an extensive report on their performance. The highest rated plants in their zone 5b garden were Tricyrtis formosana, and Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki'. Also during the 90's, American nurseries started making more species available, importing Japanese cultivars, and releasing their own selections.
Botanists have discovered and published descriptions of 22 tricyrtis species sporadically over the 225 years since Thunberg's discovery. The latest species (Tricyrtis ravenii) was described only in 2007. Taxonomists are continuing to publish changes to the genus by promoting subspecies to species, and splitting one species into many.
Toad lilies are both clump forming and slowly spreading herbaceous perennials. The clumps produce several vertically upright, arching, or horizontally trailing stems. From their rhizomatous base arise stems with orchid-like or solomon's-seal-like foliage. The 4-6" long leaves are arranged alternately on the stem and are lanceolate to ovate in shape with acute or acuminate tips and a clasping, cordate base. All parts of the plant are covered with very fine, transparent hairs. Tricyrtisvary in height from the dwarf Tricyrtis nana at only 5" tall to the interspecific hybrid cultivar Sinonome which can grow up to 4' tall or taller.
Despite their toady name, tricyrtis flowers are truly stunning. The flowers are produced from early-summer to autumn (depending on the species) when there is little else in bloom in the garden. Each flower is 1- 1.5" wide and has 6 narrow tepals (3 petals + 3 sepals). The tepals open outward in a star-shaped pattern from the flower stalk (peduncle). Several species like Tricyrtis macrantha, T. macranthopsis, and T. ishiana have fused tepals that do not flare open and so the flowers are bell-shaped (campanulate) like campanula. Some species produce flowers only at the tips of the stems while others produce flowers at every node along the stem. Some flowers are upward facing and others are nodding. The flowers are produced individually on most species.
The orchid-like flowers typically have a white or yellow base color that is covered with hundreds of small purple spots. Some cultivars have no spots or pale yellow spots. Some flowers also have sections that are blue, yellow, orange or pink. To really appreciate the beauty and complexity of the flowers you have to observe them close up. After flowering, the cylindrical seed capsules that split open to reveal tiny round, flat papery seeds.
The nomenclature and taxonomy of the genus Tricyrtis, like so many plant groups, is tangled and tumultuous. The most comprehensive description of the genus was made in a 1985 monograph by Brian Matthew. His work has been updated by the Flora of China project and by papers describing the newly discovered tricyrtis species.
Toad lilies have hopped from one plant family to another over the last several decades. They have been placed in their own family Tricyrtidaceae, as well as Uvulariaceae, Calochortaceae and Convallariaceae. Most folks still keep the genus Tricyrtis is in the Liliaceae family. The genus Tricyrtis has roughly 20 species (depending on the source), of which only two, Tricyrtis formosana, and Tricyrtis hirta, are common in gardens.
How to Grow Tricyrtis
It is best to plant tricyrtis where they can be seen close-up, where their small intricately beautiful flowers can be best appreciated. Plant the upright varieties in the front of a border, while the arching species are best displayed weeping over a wall or on a hill. Tricyrtis look great planted with hosta, anemone, ferns, astilbe, helleborus, polygonatum, uvularia, smilacina, carex and heuchera.
Tricyrtis make great garden plants because they are easy to grow. Although they prefer a slightly moist, organically rich woodland site, they will tolerate some drought once established. Plants in containers, however, should be checked frequently to prevent them from drying out. If plants are kept too dry, you will notice reduced flowering, and leaves will become spotted and brown along the edges.
In less than ideal garden conditions, tricyrtis may be bothered by slugs and snails who like to munch on the new leaves as they emerge in the spring. Organically active, nutritionally balanced soils that are active in predators such as toads, tend to keep these pests in check.
Rabbits like to dine on the new growth but deer do not (a major selling point). Another problem that has been popping up in the last few years is a Tricyrtis floral virus. This virus causes the flowers to become mottled and then turn completely purple. It won't make your toad lilies croak, but it does ruin the flower color. It is spread by aphids and can be slowed down by controlling the aphids. There is no prevention or cure for it. If you see it you will need to remove the plant (do no compost it) to prevent the spread of the virus to your other tricyrtis. Instead of discarding the plants, some folks have unknowingly named cultivars because of the virus…the cultivar Tricyrtis 'Raspberry Mousse' is a classic example of this problem.
How to Propagate Tricyrtis
Commercially, tricyrtis are propagated in large numbers via both stem cutting and tissue culture. Home gardeners can easily propagate tricyrtis via seed, cuttings, or division. The plant will reseed itself around the garden if happy, however, you can collect the seed in the late fall (November) as the capsules dry and split open. The seed should be sown fresh, but because of their small size, do not cover the seed with potting soil. Some tricyrtis species seeds require a period of cold stratification before they will germinate.
To divide a plant, you must be sure to get an underground growth bud. Simply taking a piece of the clump may not work, since during the summer, tricyrtis forms an underground growth bud for the upcoming year. Each stem grows only for one season, so if you take a stem with roots and miss the next years bud, you will not have a plant next year.
Stem cuttings are easy to root in the summer months…ideally before the flower buds develop. Remove a stem and cut it into 3-4" sections with a leaf near the top and bare stem below. Insert the stem into a rooting media up to the base of the leaf and place it where the leaf will stay moist until the new roots are formed. New plants will grow from the leaf axil and subsequently root into the soil.
Tricyrtis Species, groups and Cultivar list
Tricyrtis can be hard to categorize, so we are grouping them below based on their growing characteristics.
Upright Tricyrtis species with terminal clusters of reflex-petaled, terminal flowers
Tricyrtis affinis (Toad Lily) (syn. Tricyrtis clinata, Tricyrtis macropoda var. affinis, Tricyrtis parviflora) Tricyrtis affinis is a Japanese toad lily species that can be found in low-elevation woodlands in southern Japan. Tricyrtis affinis is an upright plant to 3' tall with broadly oval leaves, topped in late summer with purple-spotted white terminal-borne, upward facing flowers. Tricyrtis affinis makes a tight clump, and some of the best forms have amazingly beautiful dark spotted leaves. Interesting, we have found that Tricyrtis affinis prefers colder climates as opposed to the heat of the south. (Hardiness Zone 5-7, at least)
Tricyrtis affinis 'Key Lime Pie' (Key Lime Pie Toad Lily) This outstanding Darrell Probst selection makes 3' tall stalks, clothed in marvelous silvery-green leaves, each highlighted by a wide medium-green streak down the middle and surrounded by green rounded blotches. In late summer, the stalks are topped with small flower heads of 1" purple speckled flowers. (Hardiness Zone 5-7, at least)
Tricyrtis affinis 'Lunar Landing' (Lunar Landing Toad Lily) This Darrell Probst selection has silvery-chartreuse, velvet-textured leaves is bordered in dark green and then highlighted with dark green spots. The 3' tall, red-purple stalks are topped by small clusters of purple, star-shaped flowers in late summer. (Hardiness Zone 5-7, at least)
Tricyrtis macropoda (Giant Foot Toad Lily) (syn. Tricyrtis chinensis, Tricyrtis chiugokuensis, Tricyrtis dilatata) Similar to Tricyrtis affinis, Tricyrtis macropoda has a more rounded leaf that can be nicely spotted early in the season. It also forms an upright 3' tall plant with terminal clusters of less than showy white or pink flowers covered in overlapping mauve spots. Tricyrtis macropoda, is native to Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu Japan, as well as in Korea. (Hardiness Zone 5-7, at least)
Tricyrtis macropoda 'Tricolor' (Tricolor Toad Lily) (incorrectly sold as Tricyrtis affinis 'Tricolor') In spring, this is a amazing sight in the woodland garden, but the lack of vigor and small flowers has kept it from being widely available. As Tricyrtis 'Tricolor' emerges, the young shoots are green marbled with both borders and vertical bands of white. The entire leaf is overlain with a dramatic purple flush. As the growth expands upward, the purple pigment begins to fade. The 2' tall stalks are topped with small light lavender flowers with dark purple spots in early summer, but grow this for the foliage only. (Hardiness Zone 5-7)
Upright Growing, Gold-flowered, Fall-Flowering Tricyrtis Species
Tricyrtis flava (Dwarf Golden Toad Lily) (syn. Tricyrtis kyusyuensis, Tricyrtis yatabeana) This is without a doubt one of the finest members of the toad lily family, and certainly one of the least known. In early fall, this native of Eastern Kyushu, Japan forms short, compact 10" tall clumps of dark green foliage, topped with clusters of quarter-sized clear yellow upfacing terminal flowers held just above the foliage. (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Tricyrtis nana (Very Dwarf Golden Toad Lily)(syn. Tricyrtis flava var. nana) Tricyrtis nana is a very dwarf tricyrtis that hails from Shikoku, Kyushu, and Honshu, Japan around 1300' elevation. In reality, Tricyrtis nana is probably nothing more than a diminutive population of Tricyrtis flava. The 3-6" tall plants, which may have subtly blotched foliage, are topped with upfacing bright yellow flowers in early fall. Tricyrtis nana is difficult to grow, first because of its small stature, but also due to its dislike of hot summers. (Hardiness Zone 5-7a)
Tricyrtis nana 'Karasuba' (Crow Leaf Dwarf Toad Lily) Tricyrtis 'Karasuba' is a unique Japanese selection of the dwarf Tricyrtis nana. The normal green leaves on this 6" tall, tight clumper have been replaced with glossy black foliage, which is contrasted in September with bright yellow flowers borne in the upper leaf axils and at the terminal. Like other Tricyrtis nana selections, it does not do well in our North Carolina Garden, and is better suited for more northern locales. (Hardiness Zone 5-7a, at least)
Tricyrtis ohsumiensis (Dwarf Yellow Toad Lily)(syn. Tricyrtis flava var. ohsumiensis) I expect this Japanese (Kyushu island) toad lily species will also become a part of the Tricyrtis flava complex, although it is the easiest of the three species to cultivate in the garden. Tricyrtis ohsumiensis makes a 1' tall clump of wide, lightly speckled, light green leaves, topped just above the foliage in early fall with large, bright-yellow flowers. Like all members of this group, be sure to plant it where it will not get smothered by larger plants. (Hardiness Zone 4-7, at least)
Tricyrtis ohsumiensis 'Lunar Eclipse' (Lunar Eclipse Toad Lily) This selection of the dwarf Japanese Tricyrtis ohsumiensis forms a small tight rosette of basal green leaves that extend upward on a short 10" stalk. Each leaf is edged in a narrow band of white, and the clump is topped in September with large up-facing bright yellow flowers. This is the most vigorous of the variegated Tricyrtis ohsumiensis cultivars. (Hardiness Zone 4-7, at least)
Tricyrtis ohsumiensis 'Nakatsugawa' (Nakatsugawa Toad Lily) The wide, creamy white borders highlight the succulent, light green leaves...visitors are constantly mistaking it for a choice hosta. The 10" tall clump is topped in early fall with large, butter-yellow flowers. This selection comes from Garden Chicory Nursery in the city of Nakatsugawa, Japan. This is a slow grower, but one that we have had good success with. (Hardiness Zone 4-7, at least)
Pendant Gold Bell-Flowered Tricyrtis Species
Tricyrtis ishiiana (Weeping Toad Lily)(syn. Tricyrtis macrantha var. ishiiana) This rare Japanese toad lily is very similar to Tricyrtis macrantha and will probably become a subspecies of it. The arching stems are adorned with clasping green leaves...slightly narrower than Tricyrtis macrantha. In September and October, the stalks are adorned with both axillary flowers and terminal clusters of large golden bells. Tricyrtis ishiiana is best planted high where the floral show can truly be appreciated. High humidity and/or good soil moisture keeps the leaves from desiccating when the flowers are borne. (Hardiness Zone 4-8a)
Tricyrtis macrantha (Weeping Golden Tricyrtis)Growing off shaded rocky cliffs, Tricyrtis macrantha is best viewed from below. Famed UK plantsman Brian Mathew writes, "Of all the tricyrtis species, the Japanese endemic Tricyrtis macrantha and its allies probably rate as having the most fascinating and beautiful flowers." In September and October, the long arching stems are topped with large bright yellow bells, speckled red inside. The very rare, true Tricyrtis macrantha is quite similar to the more commonly grown Tricyrtis macranthopsis, except that the leaves are wider and the leaves do not clasp around the stems as in Tricyrtis ishiiana and Tricyrtis macranthopsis. (Hardiness Zone 4-8a)
Tricyrtis macranthopsis 'Juro' (Juro Toad Lily)This is the rare double flowered form of T. macranthopsis from Japan. (Hardiness Zone 4-8a)
Tricyrtis macranthopsis (Weeping Golden Tricyrtis) (syn. Tricyrtis macrantha ssp. macranthopsis) Like the aforementioned species, Tricyrtis macranthopsis has a dramatic weeping habit. The stems rise to 12", then arch out to 3'. In early fall, the end of each stem is clustered with stunning 1" long, pendant, yellow bell-like flowers. The foliage burns easily when planted in a dry or sunny location... a perfect spot would be near a shady creek bank. (Hardiness Zone 4-8a)
Pendant, Upright Gold Flowered Tricyrtis Species
Tricyrtis perfoliata (Perfoliate Toad Lily) This rare Japanese endemic hails from the moist cliffs of the Nanuki River on Japan's Kyushu Island. Tricyrtis perfoliata is one of several weeping toad lily species, but the only one that has upward-facing open flowers (like Tricyrtis flava) instead of the bell-like flowers of Tricyrtis ishiana and Tricyrtis macrantha. The 2-3' long arching stem passes through the basal ends (perfoliate) of the glossy green leaves. The stems are then laden with a stunning show of 1.5" wide axillary yellow flowers in late summer/early fall. This is not a great specimen for regions with hot, dry summers. (Hardiness Zone 5-7)
Tricyrtis perfoliata 'Spring Shine' (Spring Shine Toad Lily) This Japanese selection of T. perfoliata has a wide yellow band down the middle of each leaf. The clump is adorned in fall with the upward-facing yellow flowers that is typical of the species. (Hardiness Zone 5-7)
Tricyrtis that are Upright Growers, Yellow-Brown Terminal Flowers in Summer
Tricyrtis latifolia (Yellow Toad Lily) (syn. Tricyrtis bakeri, Tricyrtis makinoana. Tricyrtis pseudolatifolia) This upright, clumping species from northern Honshu, Japan is among the first of the toad lilies to flower. In early July, the 2' stems, alternated with large glossy chartreuse-green leaves is topped with quarter size golden flowers. The upright held petals of the flower are speckled inside with tiny purple dots. Occasionally, many of the upper leaves will also produce flowers in the axils. The foliage will spread out at the top to make a nice 2' wide clump. The leaves may also have purple spots in the spring. This toad lily is much better in colder climates. (Hardiness Zone 4-7)
Tricyrtis latifolia 'Golden Leopard' (Golden Leopard Toad Lily) Tricyrtis latifolia 'Golden Leopard' makes a sturdy upright stalk to 2' tall, topped starting in early June with panicles of upward-facing, butter-yellow flowers, each highlighted with small brown spots. I assume this cultivar name was only assigned for sales purposes and not to designate a particular trait that differs from the typical species. (Hardiness Zone 4-7)
Tricyrtis maculata (Spotted Toad Lily) (syn. Tricyrtis elegans, Tricyrtis esquirolii, Tricyrtis pilosa) This species was virtually unknown in the commercial trade until 2000. It's distribution starts in Eastern Nepal and runs into Yunnan and Sichuan, China, where it can be found between 5,000 and 8,000' elevation. Most of the material that we have seen sold as this is a purple-flowered Tricyrtis formosana H hirta hybrid. The real Tricyrtis maculata produces 4' tall sturdy stems that emerge jet black, adorned with huge 8" long x 4" wide leaves that emerge green, but well adorned with large black spots. The upper half of the stalk produces several floral cluster of upright-facing cream-light green heavily spotted flowers in July and August (NC). (Hardiness Zone 5-8a, at least)
Tricyrtis puberula (Toad Lily) The Chinese Tricyrtis puberula is hopelessly confused in the literature with the Japanese Tricyrtis latifolia. While they are related species, which both make upright clumps to 2' tall, and both flower in early summer with terminal branched inflorescences, there are some differences. Tricyrtis puberula has leaves whose basal lobes never overlap, while Tricyrtis latifolia always does. Also, Tricyrtis puberula has leaves which are pubescent (hairy) on both the top and back. In our experience the flowers of Tricyrtis puberula has a yellow background with dense brown spots, while Tricyrtis latifolia has a greatly reduced number of brown spots. Other less easily distinguishable characteristics include wavy leaves and funnel shaped-flowers at maturity in Tricyrtis latifolia, and flatter leaves and flat open flowers at maturity in Tricyrtis puberula. (Hardiness Zone 4-7, guessing)
Tricyrtis with Upright Purple-flowers - Taiwan Species
Tricyrtis formosana (Formosan Toad Lily) (syn. Tricyrtis amethystina, Tricyrtis stolonifera) This Taiwan native produces upright stems to 40" tall, clothed in glossy green leaves. The terminal flower clusters, which start in August are white and heavily spotted purple. Tricyrtis formosana spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes, creating a large patch. Tricyrtis formosana doesn't perform well in deep shade, preferring a light open shaded location to a few hours of morning sun. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Autumn Glow' (Autumn Glow Toad Lily) This stunning Japanese selection of Taiwanese Tricyrtis formosana boasts a wide yellow border around the dark green leaves...the widest and most dramatic edge on any of the other variegated Tricyrtis formosana selections we have grown. The 2' tall stalks make a large patch, 3' wide in 3 years, topped, starting in early July (NC), with clusters of orchid-like amethyst-purple flowers with dark spots. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, possibly colder)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Blu-Shing Toad' BSWJ052 (Blu-Shing Toad Lily) This 1992 Crug Farm collection from over 8,000' elevation in Tayuling in Taiwan's Central Mountains, makes an 18" tall patch with terminal panicles of heavily purple-spotted flowers, starting in September. This is probably a form of T. ravenii and not T. formosana (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Daruma' (Daruma Toad Lily) Tricyrtis 'Daruma' makes 10" tall stalks of thick, densely packed round leaves...probably a bizarre ploidy mutant. The flowers appear at the tip and are pale pink with purple spots. For us, this starts flowering in late August. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Emperor' (Emperor Toad Lily) This selection of Tricyrtis formosana boasts bright golden foliage, with each leaf surrounded by a nice creamy-white edge. Tricyrtis formosana 'Emperor' will make a nice patch, especially when grown in a slightly moist location. In midsummer, the clumps are topped with 1" wide, dark purple speckled, orchid-like flowers. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Gates of Heaven' ('Gates of Heaven Toad Lily) A gold-foliaged toad lily, discovered by C.H. Falstad of Walters Gardens as a sport of Tricyrtis 'Samurai' purchased from Japan. The bright golden leaves clothe the stems on this vigorous and stoloniferous toad lily. In early summer, and sporadically into fall, the plants are topped with contrasting purple flowers on short stems. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Gilt Edge' (Gilt Edge Toad Lily) This Terra Nova introduction is very similar to Tricyrtis 'Samurai'. Despite the minute differences, it is a magnificent plant, spreading to form a 3' wide patch. The stems rise to 1' tall, clothed with shiny green leaves, each surrounded by a golden border. In early summer and sporadically into fall, the patches are topped with terminal clusters of 1" wide, starfish-shaped flowers of white with heavy purple speckling. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Guilty Pleasure' PP#13,688 (Guilty Pleasure Toad Lily) This Tricyrtis formosana selection is clothed in gold foliage (like T. 'Gates of Heaven') throughout the season. The 18" stalks are topped in late summer with orchid-like blooms of pink spotted lavender. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Samurai' (Samurai Toad Lily) From Mrs. Masaoka of Japan, via Clarence Falstad of Walters Gardens, comes a spectacular golden-edged leaf form of the spreading Tricyrtis formosana. In early summer and sporadically into fall, the patches of 1' tall stalks are topped with 1" wide starfish-shaped flowers of white with heavy purple speckling. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Seiryu' (Seiryu Toad Lily)This is the correct name for the plant sold as Tricyrtis 'Hatatogisa'. This selection of the Tricyrtis formosana is topped with white/wine color flowers, which adorn the plant through the late summer and early fall. This will make a patch to 3' wide in 2 years. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Small Wonder' BSWJ306 (Small Wonder Toad Lily) This 16" tall dwarf represents a Crug Farm collection from Southern Taiwan. The terminal flower spikes are composed of heavily spotted purple flowers with purple-flushed petal tips. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Spotted Toad' BSWJ1769 (Spotted Toad Lily) This 1993 Crug Farm collection from Taipingshan, Taiwan was selected for its outstanding dark spotted foliage. The 24" tall stalks are topped with terminal sprays of purple spotted flowers in September. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Taroko Toad' BSWJ6705 (Taroko Toad Lily) This Crug Farm selection comes from the Taroko Gorge region in Eastern Taiwan. The 3' tall stalks are topped in September with terminal panicles of flowers that are heavily spotted purple. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Tiny Toad' BSWJ7071 (Tiny Toad Lily) This Crug farm introduction comes from the Yushan Central Mountain region of Taiwan around 8500'. The dwarf 6" tall plant is topped, starting in September with panicles of lavender spotted flowers. According to recent taxonomy, this should be renamed as a form of Tricyrtis ravenii. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least)
Tricyrtis formosana 'Velvet Toad' RWJ10104 (Velvet Toad Lily) This 2003 Crug Farm collection from Taiwan makes a 3' tall clump, topped with panicles of flowers, each with three violet petals, and three violet spotted petals. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, guessing)
Tricyrtis formosana 'W-Ho-Ping Toad' BSWJ6905 (Who-ping Toad Lily) This 1999 Crug Farm collection is from Hualien, in Eastern Taiwan. The tax 30" tall stems are topped with terminal spikes of purple spotted flowers that are much larger than the typical species. Reportedly, this clone flowers from late July until November. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, guessing)
Tricyrtis lasiocarpa (Amethyst Toad Lily) (aka. Tricyrtis formosana 'Amethystina') (Toad Lily) This is one of the most spectacular toad lilies for warmer climates. In the wilds of Taiwan, we saw this growing atop rock cliffs below 5,000' elevation, in nearly full sun, reinforcing our experience that this is not a deep shade lover. Tricyrtis lasiocarpa makes a tight clump of 3' tall, upright, ladder-like stems clothed with glossy, green and purple speckled foliage. From midsummer until early fall, the clump is topped with multiple-branched, large, terminal sprays of 1" white, orchid-like flowers with tips of amethyst and blue. This toad lily was originally introduced by John Elsley of Wayside Gardens under the incorrect name, Tricyrtis formosana 'Amethystina' (an extinct clone of the running species). (Hardiness Zone 7-9)
Tricyrtis lasiocarpa 'Royal Toad' BSWJ7014 (Royal Toad Lily) This 1999 Crug Farms collection was made from 1600' elevation in Taiwan's Central Mountains just after the devastating 1999 earthquake. The 3' tall stems are topped with terminal sprays of lightly spotted flower, with alternate petals dipped in cobalt blue. (Hardiness Zone 7-9, guessing)
Tricyrtis ravenii (Raven's Toad Lily) Tricyrtis ravenii, named in 2007 after Missouri Botanic Garden's long-time director, Dr. Peter Raven, when it was discovered that a large population of tricyrtis in Taiwan, which were previously all lumped as Tricyrtis formosana, actually represented two distinct species, Tricyrtis formosana which grew below 4500' and Tricyrtis ravenii, which grew above 5500' elevation. Tricyrtis ravenii is similar to Tricyrtis formosana, except for its narrower leaves (often liver spotted when young) and dramatically less stoloniferous nature. For us, Tricyrtis ravenii begins flowering in early August (NC). The 2' tall stalks are topped with terminal panicles of white flowers with mauve spots. Many forms have purple-spotted leaves as well. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, guessing)
Tricyrtis with Arching Purple-flowers - Fall-blooming species
Tricyrtis hirta (Toad Lily) (syn. Tricyrtis japonica, Tricyrtis masamunei) Tricyrtis hirta is the species that comes to mind when most gardeners hear the word toad lily. This ubiquitous species, which hails from the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, is quite easy to grow and has a wide range of climatic adaptability. The arching stems, clothed in hairy light green leaves, can range from 1' to 3' tall, depending on the population genetics. Tricyrtis hirta comes into bloom in late summer/early fall, when the light lavender speckled, orchid-like flowers magically appear in every leaf axil. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Alba' (White Toad Lily) This name is given to any seed-grown white-flowered Tricyrtis hirta, and does not represent a single clone. Plants sold under this name can vary dramatically with regards to vigor and flower quality. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Albescens' (Albescens Toad Lily)Like Tricyrtis hirta 'Alba', this is a catch-all name for white flowered seedlings of Tricyrtis hirta. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Albomarginata' (Variegated Toad Lily) This is a creamy white-edged leaf clone of the popular toad lily. The, 18" arching branches burst into flower in midsummer through early fall with 1" purple orchid-like flowers in each leaf axil. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Golden Gleam' (Golden Gleam Toad Lily) Years after its 1996 introduction from Terra Nova, Tricyrtis hirta 'Golden Gleam' is still one of our favorite toad lilies...even if it never flowered. This dwarf only reaches 18", boasting chartreuse golden foliage spotted with large grey dots, that looks great all summer in the woodland garden when used among textural contrasts like ferns and carex. The foliage color tends to fade to green in climates with hot summers. In fall, each leaf axil is tightly packed with 1" wide dark purple and white-speckled flowers. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Lightning Strike' (Lightning Strike Toad Lily) This unusual attention-getting Japanese selection of the commonly grown Tricyrtis hirta makes an outstanding feature in the woodland garden. The bright golden foliage is streaked with green on 2' tall arching stems. Even though the pattern of streaking is variable, we have seen no reversions to solid green. In early fall, the stems are highlighted with 1" light lavender, orchid-like flowers in the leaf axils. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Minazuki' (Minazuki Toad Lily) Not to be confused with Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki', Tricyrtis 'Minazuki' is a short-growing selection of the hairless Tricyrtis hirta var. masamunei from Kyushu, Japan. As the summer progresses, the 12" tall stems of narrow golden leaves develop a thin green border along with a few green streaks in the leaves. Starting in September (NC), the plants are adorned with pale lavender flowers, both terminally and in the leaf axils. Tricyrtis 'Minazuki' is the more stable form of the highly streaked Tricyrtis hirta 'Lightning Strike'. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Mine-no-yuki' (Mine-no-yuki Toad Lily) Tricyrtis 'Mine-no-yuki' is a 1' tall vigorous Japanese selection with arching stems and light-pink flowers with purple spots. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki' (Miyazaki Toad Lily)Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki' is a seed strain of the Japanese native Tricyrtis hirta that was selected for its shorter, more arching habit than the typical species. In late summer and early fall, the 1" purple and white spotted, orchid-like flowers burst forth in the leaf axils. Slightly moist soils are best, although Tricyrtis hirta can endure extended droughts by diminishing its flower production. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki Gold' (Miyazaki Gold Toad Lily) This choice variegated toad lily is from the dwarf Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki' strain. Growing to only 12" tall, this gem is clothed with green leaves with a distinct creamy yellow edge (darker gold than Tricyrtis hirta 'Albomarginata'). In late summer/early fall, the arching branches are covered with purple orchid-like flowers in each leaf axil. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Moonlight' (Moonlight Toad Lily)This Bluebird Nursery introduction is an all-gold clone (often with tiny green lines) that originated as a sport of Tricyrtis hirta 'Variegata'. The hairy chartreuse/parchment-colored foliage tightly clothes the 15" stalks and this eventual 2' wide clumper. In fall, every leaf axil is home to a nickel-sized, orchid-like flower...a white background with dramatic purple specks and a purple ring at the inside base of the flower. We have not found this to be the most vigorous of the gold-foliage selections. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'Shining Light' (Shining Light Toad Lily) Tricyrtis 'Shining Light' makes an attractive 2' tall ladder of foliage, each leaf a chartreuse gold with a contrasting dark green edge. In fall, the clumps are topped with 1" wide orchid-like flowers in every leaf axil. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis hirta 'White Towers' (White Towers Toad Lily) Tricyrtis 'White Towers' is an 20" tall upright clone of Tricyrtis hirta with liver spots when young, and topped in late summer/early fall with white flowers. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Uncultivated Tricyrtis Species
Tricyrtis imeldae (Imelda Marcos Toad Lily) This 1975 discovery from the Philippines represents a dramatic disjunct from the typical distribution of the genus Tricyrtis. The stoloniferous rhizome produces 2' tall stalks, with flowers that resemble Tricyrtis formosana, although there are no living specimens in cultivation for comparison, due to the dangerous region in which is grows. (Hardiness Zone unknown)
Tricyrtis setouchiensis (Toad Lily) From southern Japan. Arising from thin rhizomes, the 2' tall upright stems are clothed with oblong 6" long leaves. Reportedly, this is a close relative of Tricyrtis affinis. (Hardiness Zone unknown)
Tricyrtis suzukii (Suzuki's Toad Lily) This very rare stoloniferous species from Northern and Eastern Taiwan is composed of dainty 3' long arching stems with 4" long leaves, and white with purple spotted flowers produced in the axils. (Hardiness Zone unknown)
Tricyrtis viridula (Green Toad Lily) This is a newly discovered (1997) species from southeast China. This upright species to 3' tall is clothed with 3" long ovate leaves. Flowers, which form at the stem tips are greenish-white with purple spots and some small pale orange spots. (Hardiness Zone unknown)
Tricyrtis 'Amanogawa' (Milky Way Toad Lily)From Japan comes this splendid, but difficult to find, hybrid toad lily Tricyrtis perfoliata x Tricyrtis hirta). The rigid arching habit of the stem makes this toad lily perfect to arch over a rock, or through ferns. The stems are clothed, from very late summer through early fall with brown speckled leaves, leading to the creamy yellow, lightly speckled, orchid-like flowers at the end of each stem. "Amanogawa" is Japanese for "Milky Way Galaxy". (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis 'Blue Wonder' (Blue Wonder Toad Lily)This appears to be a cross of Tricyrtis hirta and Tricyrtis formosana. The 30" tall upright stalks are topped with terminal panicles of flowers with pale blue petals with dark blue spots starting in September. It does spread, although not a fast as Tricyrtis formosana. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, guessing)
Tricyrtis 'Dai Nagon' (Dai Nagon Toad Lily) This Tricyrtis hirta hybrid makes a congested 8" tall clump. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, guessing)
Tricyrtis 'Eco Yellow Spangles' (Eco Yellow Spangles Toad Lily) This hybrid of Tricyrtis latifolia and Tricyrtis flava was made by Don Jacobs of Eco Gardens in Decatur, Georgia. Tricyrtis 'Eco Yellow Spangles' makes a strongly arching plant, clothed with glossy green foliage, adorned with cinnamon spots. The large yellow upfacing flowers also are spotted cinnamon. (Hardiness Zone 5-7, guessing)
Tricyrtis 'Empress' (Empress Toad Lily) This toad lily hybrid makes a 30" tall upright clump, topped from late July-September with terminal spikes of large orchid-like flowers...white background with dark purple speckles. (Hardiness Zone 5b-9, guessing)
Tricyrtis formosana x Tricyrtis hirta (Hybrid Toad Lily) Since these two species readily cross in the garden, many plants sold commercially as both Tricyrtis hirta and Tricyrtis formosana are actually this cross. The result is usually a plant that is much more vigorous than either parent. Offspring can either inherit the running or clumping habit of either parent. The 3" long leaves clasp the nearly 3' tall stems. In late summer and early fall, branches of 1" flowers, white with dark purple freckles, top the plant. (Hardiness Zone 5b-9)
Tricyrtis 'Kohaku' (Kohaku Toad Lily) This is a hybrid of two distantly related species, Tricyrtis macranthopsis x Tricyrtis hirta. The 2' long nearly prostrate branches are adorned with deeply veined pointed green leaves. In late summer, each branch is home to the extraordinarily large dark purple and white spotted orchid-like terminal flowers. Although this is a genetically interesting plant, it doesn't make much of a garden specimen, especially in the southeast. Perhaps it would be better suited to the Pacific Northwest. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis 'Imperial Banner' PP 18,956 (Imperial Banner Toad Lily) This stunning new toad lily occurred as a mutation on Tricyrtis 'Empress', which we believe to be a Tricyrtis hirta x formosana hybrid. The amazing leaves on Tricyrtis 'Imperial Banner' are glossy green with a unique white central variegation pattern. Tricyrtis 'Imperial Banner' forms an absolutely amazing and unique 2' tall x 2' wide clump, even before it is topped in midsummer with short terminal spikes of light lavender flowers with dark purple spots. Many of the plants in the trade sold as this are actually Tricyrtis 'White Waves' which is easier to maintain in tissue culture. Tricyrtis 'Imperial Banner' is very prone to reversion to solid green stems, which should be promptly removed. (Hardiness Zone 6-8, at least)
Tricyrtis 'Lemon Twist' (Lemon Twist Toad Lily)This Darrell Probst introduction is a cross between two dwarf Japanese yellow-flowered species, Tricyrtis flava and Tricyrtis ohsumiensis. The result is a vigorous hybrid with large, light green, speckled leaves that form a robust 1' tall by 1' wide clump. The clumps are topped, starting in early October, with large, light yellow flowers. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, at least)
Tricyrtis 'Manten-no-hoshi' (Manten no Hoshi Toad Lily) This Japanese selection, which has strong stems topped with terminal clusters of white flowers heavily marked with rich purple, was developed for the cut flower trade. (Hardiness Zone 5-8, at least)
Tricyrtis 'Momoyama' (Momoyama Toad Lily)Flowers on this 3' tall Japanese Tricyrtis hirta hybrid are white in the center and pale-pink towards the tips, with very few floral spots. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Tricyrtis 'Moonlight Treasure' PP 16,037, PVR (Moonlight Treasure Toad Lily) Tricyrtis 'Moonlight Treasure' is a new hybrid, created using the beautiful dwarf species Tricyrtis ohsumiensis and Tricyrtis nana. The result is a compact hybrid comprised of thick, beautifully blotched leaves forming a compact 10" tall by 10" wide clump. Starting in late summer, the clumps are topped with large, buttery-yellow flowers held just above the foliage. (Hardiness Zone 5-7, at least)
Tricyrtis 'Purple Beauty' (Purple Beauty Toad Lily) This probable Tricyrtis formosana x Tricyrtis hirta hybrid makes a 3' tall upright grower, topped, starting in September with terminal panicles of flowers with a base color of white that is heavily spotted purple. Tricyrtis 'Purple Beauty' is a loose clumper as compared with Tricyrtis 'Blue Wonder' (Hardiness Zone 6-9, guessing)
Tricyrtis 'Shikin' (Shikin Toad Lily) This is another Tricyrtis hirta x Tricyrtis formosana hybrid from Japan. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least)
Tricyrtis 'Sinonome' (Sinonome Toad Lily)Tricyrtis 'Sinonome' was rated one of the top toad lilies in the extensive perennial trials at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. It performs equally as well for us in the land of heat and humidity as it does in the cold windy city. The 3' tall upright stems of this Tricyrtis hirta x Tricyrtis formosana hybrid are clothed with leaves from bottom to top. In late summer, the top of the stems are home to nice clusters of 1" purple and white speckled flowers. (Hardiness Zone 5-9)
Tricyrtis 'Taipei Silk' PP 18,727 (Taipei Silk Toad Lily) This delightful tricyrtis hybrid comes from the breeding program of Darrell Probst. The 30" tall stalks of this Tricyrtis lasiocarpa hybrid are clothed with glossy green leaves, then topped, starting in September, with five-way branched terminal sprays of 1.5" wide flowers. Each flower is composed of three rich lavender petals contrasted with three smaller white petals with lavender specks. (Hardiness Zone 6-8, at least)
Tricyrtis 'Tojen' (Tojen Toad Lily) (aka: Tricyrtis 'Togen') This is a robust Japanese hybrid with gigantic foliage that is nearly three times as large as most of the other tricyrtis species and remains looking good all summer. Tricyrtis 'Tojen' forms a massive 2' tall by 3' wide clump, topped, starting in midsummer, with terminal clusters of unspotted orchid lavender and white flowers with yellow throats. (Hardiness Zone 5-8)
Tricyrtis 'White Waves' PP 20,007 (White Waves Toad Lily) This new toad lily is one that we found hiding amongst our stock of Tricyrtis 'Imperial Banner'. While similar to its parent, Tricyrtis 'White Waves' has none of the green streaking in the middle of the creamy central part of the leaf. This results in a more dramatic leaf variegation but slightly less vigor. For us, the 15" tall clumps are topped in early October with attractive purple-spotted flowers. (Hardiness Zone 6-8, at least)
I hope we have enticed you to explore more of the wonderful toad lily species and selections. These far too uncommon plants are uncommonly beautiful and should be a part of every woodland garden.Tricyrtis provide beautiful splashes of color from summer through fall, when little else is in bloom, and the variegated foliage on many clones expand the interest into the spring. Be sure to see our current selection of toad lily for sale. Enjoy!
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