A question about the horrible lily beetle and news of a new shorter Turtlehead
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

May 15, 2016

Above, two shots of lily beetles in action followed by a sketch showing the damage caused. Below, ‘Tiny Tortuga’ is a brand new dwarf-growing cultivar of Turtlehead; and a close-up shot of the white flowering Turtlehead. Author photos.




Ralph Savage who wrote to me from an unknown location asked about the infamous lily beetles.

“I understand you can't answer all the emails that come to you, but I am hoping that you can answer this question. I have a lovely little lily bed. And, when in bloom, it is a great garden. But, just when it is at its peak, those dang lily beetles attack, eating the whole plant!! They are already attacking the ones just coming out of the earth. What can I do to chase them away?”

Lily beetles are anything but new and seem now to have spread pretty much across the country. While I was in Ontario (until 2002) they were a problem particularly in south and south-western Ontario. There are many ways of controlling them before they eat entire lily plants including the flowers.

The scarlet lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii), is an 8 mm (3”) long bright red leaf beetle which is a serious pest of lilies and fritillaries. The larvae have dirty orange-red bodies with black heads; they are rather rotund with a humped appearance. The larvae normally cover themselves with their own slimy black excreta and could be mistaken for birds' droppings. With adequate food, they reach 8-10 mm in length, at which stage they pupate. Both adults and larvae damage lilies (Lilium spp.) and fritillaries (Fritillaria spp.), primarily by defoliating them, but in heavy infestations the flowers, seed capsules and stems will also be eaten.

Continuous hand-picking is still the single best way of controlling them, though it is a messy task. The beetles can be killed by spraying with any good insecticide such as Doktor Doom’s House & Garden Insecticide Spray. However, due to the beetles’ constant activity, it is usually necessary to spray every seven to 14 days from April to October.

* * *

Have you discovered the ease and pleasure of growing Turtlehead? A little-known American native perennial, it thrives in damp soils along the edges of ponds and creeks, as well as consistently moist spots in woodlands and meadows. Surely you have just the place for it in your garden or container?

In our garden on Nesbitt Drive in Toronto early in its development I sought a perennial that would give us some colour later in the season (i.e. August onwards) and settled on Turtlehead. But the old cultivars were quite tall and often needed staking if we were to see their colouring.

Tiny Tortuga (don't you love the name?!) is a dwarf Turtlehead, the offspring of a well-known variety called Hot Lips. Tiny Tortuga delights with rich, dark bronzy-burgundy leaves in spring, followed by dark pink blooms in mid and late summer, sometimes even extending into fall. In other words, from spring through summer there's something pretty to look at!

And Tiny Tortuga makes a big impression even in small spaces. The leaves (ranging from about 7 to 12 cm [3 to 5 inches long]) are nicely veined and pointed, their strong spring color lasting for many weeks before going green for the remainder of the season. The flowers are just 2-3 cm (1 to 1½”) long and very bright. They may remind you of Snapdragons, with their two-petaled structure. They call to mind a turtle's mouth -- hence the common name of this plant!

Tiny Tortuga reaches just 35-40 cm (14 to 16”) high and not quite as wide, thriving in full sun in cool climates and partial shade in warmer ones. It appreciates deep, rich soil (its natural habitat is the nutrient-rich leaf mold of the forest floor or creek bank), but other than that needs no special care other than consistent moisture.

Butterflies flock to Tiny Tortuga, while deer avoid nibbling on it. Remarkably pest-free, it has all the vigor and resilience you'd expect of a native plant. It spreads slowly over time, never invasively but willing to colonize into good-sized groups. Of course, it also fares quite happily in a container.

This season, distinguish your garden from all others in the neighborhood by adding a hardy, long-lived, easy-to-grow native perennial that just happens to be a great conversation point as well! Tiny Tortuga awaits you!


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