Can you handle the amazingness of such a vision?! The architecture, the color, the opulence…it’s out of hand and The Plant Provocateur loves it! Mother nature has outdone herself again. Welcome to the world of the plant genus Tricyrtis commonly known as the Toad Lily. Tricyrtis come from places such as the Himalayas, the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan. So, what’s with the common name Toad Lily? How on earth could something so spectacular be considered ‘toad-like’? Well, there’s this crazy story. Let me set the scene. It’s the early 1970′s. The place is the Philippines. It is alleged by some that an eccentric millionaire politician came up with a hoax to increase tourism. This hoax involved the discovery of a Stone Age Tribe, known as the Tasaday, living in what was described as a ‘Primeval Eden’ somewhere in the Philippines. The world and other enquiring minds wanted to know more! Their tribal skills included catching frogs for food. The method in which they demonstrated this was to crush Tricyrtis and rub the plant’s juices all over their arms and hands. The odor supposedly was a ‘frog attractant’ that caused wayward amphibians to jump into their hands making hunting for them a snap. No more digging around in the muck. It was, allegedly, that easy. After much speculation about the authenticity of the tribe itself, many considered it all to be an act. Regardless, the common name Toad Lily remains.
I fell in love with Tricyrtis many years ago when a friend gave me a rather distressed looking clump in an old terra cotta pot. He told me to be patient. I was well rewarded! Tricyrtis are perennial and resemble the woodland plant Maianthemum racemosum commonly referred to as False Solomon’s Seal. They grow as arching stems that get about 2 to 3 feet tall. The species Tricyrtis formasana var. stolonifera spreads with runners to create clumps of plants up to 2 feet wide.
The species Tricyrtis hirta does not run, but does form clumps up to 2 feet wide. In spring, Tricyrtis sprout and send up arching stems flanked with foliage. Depending on the species the foliage can be spotted, fuzzy, outlined with colorful margins, matte, or glossy. In late summer/early fall, inch long flowers of the most elaborate configuration, color, and pattern are produced. They resemble jewel-encrusted orchids. Seriously stunning!
In general, Tricyrtis like partial shade to bright shade conditions, rich, organic, well-draining soil, regular water, and are hardy down to -25 degrees fahrenheit/-31 degrees celsius. Also, as Tricyrtis grow they tend to sprawl. If control is your thing, stake and secure stems according to your aesthetic taste. In fall, plants die back and wither. Cut back in late winter/early spring in time for emergent new growth. They do well in containers and are best observed if you plant them close to pathways or place them somewhere where their amazing flowers can be seen, up close and personal, when they bloom. They are indeed a guilty garden pleasure; an opulent overload of horticultural hotness!