Tricyrtis - Tantalizing Toad Lilies
by Dan Heims
January 1, 2000

My eyes gaze over the fall garden. Hostas, so full and vital in the spring, succumb to their deciduous nature. Astilbes fade, geraniums melt into russet tones. Amongst the softly falling leaves a plant springs out to share the stage, the toad-lily's time is come. These Asian natives inhabit the woodlands from the Philippines to the Himalayan mountains. Most varieties disdain full sun unless they are growing in Maine or the Pacific Northwest (we do get away with murder here!), so they should get morning sun at most and seem to be quite content in moderate shade. While there are a slew of new variegated varieties emerging, these members of the lily family (actually Uvulariaceae--an allied family) generally sport upright stems with lance-like foliage. Then there are the flowers. More than once, non-plant people have commented on the unusual "orchids" along my pathways, but no, lilies they be. The flowers are exotic; spatter-paint masterpieces of purples, whites and yellows. Ketzel Levine once described the flowers as a "surrealistic fantasy which stand on three rubber boots." I couldn't have said it better. When traveling through the subway stations in Japan, I was delighted to see Tricyrtis commonly used as a cut flower. Sterile forms with attractive foliage like T. `Togen' seem to be best in this aspect.

Careful placement of these plants is critical as certain varieties flower only at the top of the foliage (terminal) while others cluster above each setof leaves (axillary). Some varieties like Tricyrtis `Kohaku' and its mother, Tricyrtis macrantha ssp. macranthopsis, though extremely showy, have a pendant habit making them more suitable cascading down a raised bed or rock wall. In my garden these varieties act as a curious groundcover. Top flowering varieties are best looked down upon and the axillary types fit best by a woodland border. As with many families there are dwarfs and there are giants. Tricyrtis nana is the "baby" of the family, growing under 3" tall with broad, leathery, wonderfully spotted leaves. Flowers are large and primrose yellow with tiny burgundy flecks. This plant is slow, rare, and very hard to find. The cultivar T. `Sinome' can reach a towering five feet in Pacific Northwest Gardens. It sports lavender flowers with darker purple banding. As Tricyrtis are amongst the latest bloomers in the garden, your siting of the plants should avoid frost pockets. You should also know when most of the toad-lilies bloom as some are not suitable for some early frost gardens.

One of the benefits of being a plantsman is seeing cultivated plants in their native habitat. When I was in Japan on the banks of Mt. Fuji, I saw Rodgersia growing in a trickling stream and Tricyrtis nearby thriving in woodland conditions. The plants were growing in an evergreen duff with a fair amount of moisture below. Extrapolating this information from nature we can surmise that Tricyrtis appreciate woodland shade, acidic soil, a mulch, and even moisture. The bulk of Tricyrtis cultivars resent drying out completely. The fleshy rhizomes will recover and resprout, but the foliage, especially the lower leaves, will suffer and burn. The addition of compost, peat, and sand to your soil will assure acidic conditions and good drainage. They respond well to drip irrigation. If you want them in containers, they must be large enough to keep the roots somewhat cool and must not dry out. I have seen excellent plants in the American Southeast and the Midwest. Heat and humidity does not seem to bother most varieties and the T. formosana types seem to thrive on it. Fertilization is best achieved by a balanced slow release fertilizer like an Osmocote 8-9 month product. Some varieties are heavy feeders and you can tell by the appearance of anemic leaves that food is needed. They appreciate organic foods like fish emulsion at half strength. My experience with high strength soluble fertilizers is that the leaf-tips will burn on these plants. Pests can include root or vine weevils, slugs and snails, and aphids to a lesser degree.

In the garden, tricyrtis are a joy, as long as they don't dry out. Far different from their "toady" name, these shade lovers have a graceful arching habit. Their leaves are elegant and substantial and the waxy, exotic flowers are a treat worth waiting for. Carex varieties can form a nice grassy counterpoint to them. They are quite at home with Hosta, but one should avoid the larger thugs that can smother the poor dears. Groundcovers like Maianthemum, Viola, and Asperula support the plant visually. Disporum, Uvularia, and Smilacina will echo the shape of the plant at different heights. The gold and variegated Tricyrtis go well with plain blue medium height Hosta. Dwarf astilbe like `Willy Buchanan' and `Sprite' enjoy the same conditions and do well with each other.

While in Japan, I visited specialty nurseries like Gotemba Nursery. Here Mr. Kenji Watanabe had collected by far, the most remarkable collection of tricyrtis imaginable. Perfectly cultured plants in 3" pots stood begging to be bought, but the prices were jaw-dropping. I paid $150 for a new variegated hybrid that he originated. Here too, I found bronze leaved varieties and even a double flowered form. Some plants (non variegated) could be purchased for as little as $20, but in his nursery variegates rule. In America I have only seen two variegated varieties sold; a gold edged form of T. hirta and a white edged form of the same species. Plantspeople such as Darrel Probst, Diana Reeck, and myself are crossing plants from our collections to come up with some fabulous forms showing larger, showier flowers and/or exciting variegated foliage. Tissue culture enables us to increase the plants quickly and to keep the plant price way below $150.

Tricyrtis can be propagated by root cuttings, stem cuttings, or division. Spring is the best time to divide and early summer the best time to root cuttings. I have done fall root cuttings with good success. Despite its odd common name, Tricyrtis offer a last hurrah in the garden- a jewel forgotten and then found again in the settling fall garden. Come explore our list of Tricyrtis, some ancient and some brand new:

The Species

Tricyrtis affinis An upright species to about 3' with broadly oval leaves, 1" white flowers with light purple spotting. July bloomer.

Tricyrtis formosana Glossy, unspotted green leaves on strong stems to 40". White flowers are spotted purple. Flowers are smaller than most species.

Tricyrtis hirta The most common form, upright stems to 2' carry hairy leaves, White flowers heavily speckled purple. Blooms here in September.

Tricyrtis lasiocarpa B&SWJ 3635 The rather spectacular flower of this plant has a base with a purple edge, increasing towards the tip and a blue splash in the centre of the three broader petals. The whole flowers is sprinkled with fine red spots and a yellow neck suffused up the petal. The petals are narrow and quite upright, wide and curled. The plant has dark green leaves and a rather sprawling habit, very lush, needs lots of room. (Farmyard Nursery Description) (FY)

Tricyrtis latifolia (syn.Tricyrtis bakeri) Glossy leaves are held in a rosette form and are heavily marked with reddish brown spots in spring. Flowers are yellow with fine brown spotting. Blooms here in July.

Tricyrtis macrantha ssp. macranthopsis Large 2" deep yellow tubular bells with reddish-brown spots inside, hang from the leaf axils. The stems of narrow glossy leaves arch, tending to become pendulous as the heavy flowers open.

Tricyrtis macropoda (syn Tricyrtis dilatata) Upright stems, broadly ovate leaves and upright clusters of flowers with reflexed petals, heavily reddish speckled, 3-4' tall, with profuse flowering both terminally and in the leaf axils.

Tricyrtis maculata HWJCM 431 Heronswood Nursery describes this collection as "Upright leafy stems topped by light lavender flowers spotted with purple. Zone 6."

Tricyrtis nana Bold rosette of huge leaves, heavily spotted, quite waxy texture and grows to only 3" tall. Flowers are primrose yellow and light flecked with red. Light shade, moist rich soil that drains well.

Tricyrtis ohsumiensis Broad, shiny, sharply acute leaves with a thick waxy texture, densely arranged up a stem that only grows about 14" tall. The 2" flowers are bright light yellow, slightly spotted, and sit wide open and upright in the leaf axils. Light shade, moist rich soil that drains well.

Tricyrtis perfoliata Plant with very lax growth, long narrow leaves and thin stems. Flowers are yellow and bell shaped with very fine red spots grouped around the edges of the petals, the anthers are yellow and the filaments only have spots at their base. It does not grow very high because of its habit but it has a spread of 30-45cm. (Farmyard Nursery Description) (FY) This is nowhere near the number of spp. available today. More spp. are on the chart.

The Cultivars
(see the chart for more details)

Tricyrtis 'Adbane' Dark green foliage with purple tinting. Mauve blue flowers with white centers. 2ft.

Tricyrtis affinis 'Variegata' This plant grows strongly and is bushy, it has a good distinctive cream edge to its leaves. (FY)

Tricyrtis 'Angel's Halo' Has an icy white flower with a golden throat that is surrounded by a deep purple halo. It has very short internodes with a good quantity of flowers top to bottom. It flowers for a very long period.

Tricyrtis `Eco Gold Spangles' A hybrid with widely arching stems and large wide open soft yellow flowers, very lightly spotted. The foliage is slightly pubescent and lightly spotted purple. z6?

Tricyrtis `Empress' A brand new hybrid with extra large flowers and almost spidery petals, white spotted purple, opening wider than any I have seen. Glossy leaves, seems to be close to T. formosana. to 2 ft.

Tricyrtis formosana 'Dark Beauty' A dark flowered form , blooming in September and October. To 3'. Zone6.

Tricyrtis formosana `Samurai' A new variegated form, smooth green leaves edged gold. White flowers spotted purple. 2' tall, Zone 6.

Tricyrtis formosana `Gates of Heaven' A solid gold form of formosana introduced by Walter's Gardens. Typical flowers for formosana. 2-3 ft.

Tricyrtis formosana 'Variegata' A gold edged form, similar to T. `Samurai'. Vigorous to 3' tall, Zone 6, lavender flowers which are very late in blooming.

Tricyrtis hirta `Albescens' A white flowered Toad Lily, the creamy white petals have the faintest yellow spots.

Tricyrtis hirta 'Autumn Surprise' A plant of Farmyard Nursery's breeding, this hirta hybrid is a rather select form. Upright in habit it is free flowering and fairly sturdy. Very similar to 'Miyazaki', but much brighter in colour with larger darker markings. (FY)

Tricyrtis hirta `Gold Leaf' A superb gold leaf form. Upright stems to 2'+ with narrow, hairy leaves that hold their gold color all season. White flowers heavily speckled purple, appear light purple.

Tricyrtis hirta 'Kinkazan' This plant has unusual flower coloring, the petals are a very dark as if the spots have joined together. Not easy to grow. (FY)

Tricyrtis hirta 'Makinoi Gold' An upright bushy habit ,a large slender dark green leaf with a very fine gold edge to 30". (FY)

Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki' Orchid spotted flowers along arching stems in late summer, fall. Excellent floriferous selection. z5.

Tricyrtis hirta 'Silver Blue' One of Farmyard Nursery's varieties with a typically hirta habit, arching stems with flowers at each leaf joint in an attractive silvery blue colouration. The flowers are very finely spotted with a dark bluey purple spot hence the overall effect of blue flower. The leaves and stems are hairy. (FY)

Tricyrtis hirta 'Variegata' There is a sharp white edge on each mid-green leaf on this cultivar. Flowers are typically purple spotted. z5

Tricyrtis 'Hototogisu' Flowers are few-spotted, light purple and bloom here in September. Strange cultivar name as `Hototogisu' means Tricyrtis!. z5.

Tricyrtis ishiiana 'Sunningensis' Yellow flowered tricyrtis, heavy blooming on pendant stems. Seen cascading over a rock or wall.

Tricyrtis 'Ivory Queen' This is one of Farmyard Nursery's own varieties which they think is perhaps one of the best whites that they have seen. Good upright growth and freeflowering.The flower opens wide and has an attractive yellow coloring at the base of the petals. (FY)

Tricyrtis 'Kohaku' (T. hirta x T. macranthopsis) A recent introduction from Japan, a rare hybrid between these species. Beautiful, large, wide open flowers, white with heavy purple spotting, marked with yellow at the base of the petals. The leaves are lightly pubescent and the branches tend to be pendulous.

Tricyrtis latifolia `Forbidden City' From seed we received from the Beijing Botanic Garden years ago, this unique form has stood the test of time. The rosette of lance like, dark, shiny, olive green leaves are heavily marked with mahogany brown spots in spring, the flowering stems are dark brown and the flowers in July are yellow, but very heavily speckled with fine brownish-red spots. A unique form for the Tricyrtis collector.

Tricyrtis 'Lilac Towers' One of the smaller plants of this family only growing to about 45 cm,it has a rather upright habit with spotted leaves. The flowers are liberally spotted with dark purple oval spots which are larger at the base of the petals. Yellow coloring at the base of the petals is quite marked in this flower. (FY)

Tricyrtis `Lemon and Lime' (syn. Lemon Lime) Golden foliage sometimes lined in green. Shorter stature than most. A Terra Nova Introduction. Some T. hirta blood. Lilac flowers. Zone 5. Tricyrtis `Lightning Strike' From Japan, a wonderful new toad lily. Gold-striped leaves vary to a light center with a dark green `lightning' along the edges. Lavender flowers. Great with Hostas. Z 4-9 Tricyrtis macrantha ssp. macranthopsis Large 2" deep yellow tubular bells with slightly flared tips, densely spotted inside with fine brownish red spots, hang from the leaf axils. The stems of narrow glossy leaves arch, tending to become pendulous as the heavy flowers open.

Tricyrtis macropoda -'Yungi Temple Form' (#SABE 51A) An extremely fine form of T. macropoda. The original seed came from the area of the Yungi temple in China in 1980, in the Zhejiang Province, where it grows abundantly. It has upright stems, broadly ovate leaves and upright clusters of flowers with reflexed petals, heavily reddish speckled, 3-4' tall, with profuse flowering both terminally and in the leaf axils.

Tricyrtis macropoda `Tricolor' Beautifully spotted grey foliage is further enhanced by stripes of pink and white. Unusual yellow flowers in late summer. Limited. Z 5-9

Tricyrtis `Matsukaze' This is a tall plant with quite showy flowers which are borne well above the foliage on fine stems. The flowers have large irregular spots, thicker towards the tips of the petals. (FY)

Tricyrtis nana `Bronze Leaf' An amazing breakthrough from Japan, this very dwarf, bronze leaved variety was acquired from Mr. Watanabe near Mt. Fuji. The leaves are no taller than 4" and are much smaller than the species. Flowers are a medium yellow, peppered with small red spots. Leaf backs are a darker purple.

Tricyrtis 'Sharkskin' is a selection of T. stolonifera. It is even more iridescent than the cultivar 'Amethystina' and a very vigorous grower. The coloration and sheen reminded me of those ridiculous sharkskin suits that were worn in the 1960's.

Tricyrtis `Shining Light' Another wonderful new toad lily from Japan. Gold and dark green striped leaves vary on each branch for an "artistic" effect. Lavender flowers. Great with Hostas. Z 4-9.

Tricyrtis 'Snow Fountain' is a pure white flower. Most T. hirta plants produce flowers on the top third of the plant with a lot of bare stem showing. 'Snow Fountain' produces 3-5 flower buds per leaf axil from the ground up with 8-10 flowers at the terminal and no bare stem showing.

Tricyrtis `Togen' A beautiful Toad Lily selection from Japan, very robust, with heavy substance, The flowers are larger than other forms, white with amethyst purple tips. Possibly one of the best for cut flowers and carries some of the cleanest foliage. z5.

Tricyrtis `Washfields' A very tall vigorous plant with large wide dark green leaves, it has the most beautiful delicately shaded flowers. It has dark anthers and a red spotted stigma. There is a great difference in the size of the two types of petals, the three thin petals are long and narrow, white with a small amount of colour at the tips and slightly spotted at the base. The wide petals are a very dark purple blue at the tips, slight fine spotting at the base. This is a good garden plant but needs room to sprawl. (FY)

Tricyrtis `White Towers' A `hirta' type of toad lily that translates to easy care, great hardiness, and felted, arching branches adorned with white flowers in the axils and at the tips. Limited quantities this year. Z 4-9.

More Tricyrtis Information and pictures: Website Email

Dan Heims is the President of Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. email Dan Heims at

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