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Portland Nursery

TRICYRTIS: Toad Lily

Who could resist a plant which got its name because natives of the Philippines rub it on their hands as a toad attractant before going out to collect toads? The robust habit yet delicate appearance of Tricyrtis surely deserves a place in more gardens.

In spring, lush new growth (variegated or bright gold in some varieties) quickly makes a bold–textured rounded clump which holds in good condition through the heat of summer. Then, from September to frost, tiny orchid–like flowers of white with intricately patterned purple spots cover the top of each stem, changing the texture from coarse to fine.

The flowers are best appreciated from up close, so plant Tricyrtis near the front of the border, or, get one of the interesting–foliaged varieties, and let it fill in the back. Either way, Tricyrtis is a sure way to extend the interest and bloom time of your woodland or shade border.

Plant it with Astilbes for a nice textural contrast, or with Cimifuga ‘Black Negligee’ to bring out the purple of the flowers. Don’t forget to include some evergreens such as Helleborus ‘Metallic Blue Lady’ or Autumn Fern (Dryopteris ‘Brilliance’) for winter interest.

Tricyrtis’ light colored flowers will stand out best against a dark background, perhaps a Yew (Taxus sp.), Mexican Orange (Choisya ternata), or a Rhododendron.

Some varieties you can find at Portland Nursery include:


T. ‘Empress’

Tricyrtis Empress

Selected for its large, fully open flowers which allow one to better observe the pattern of purple spots on white flowers. 28" tall and wide.


T. formosana ‘Blu–shing Toad’

Some say blue shing, not blushing, which does seem to have the sound of its native Taiwan, but the color and number of spots (so many that they merge together in to intricate patterns!) on the flowers of this variety do make it look rather like it’s blushing. Compact plants grow 18–24" high and wide.


T. formosana ‘Samurai’

Mid–green leaves are edged in gold. This variety managed to become variegated without losing any of the vigor of its green leafed relatives. Grows 12–18" high and wide.


T. formosana ‘Spotted Toad’

Lots of spots! So many they couldn’t all fit on the flowers and some relocated to the leaves. Both are the typical Tricyrtis purple color. Rigidly upright habit, but only to 18–24" tall and not as wide.


T. hirta

Tricyrtis hirta

Tall, arching stems grow 24–36" long, but never reach much more than 2’ tall as a result of the arching. Dark purple spots on the flowers sometimes merge to form amorphous purple blobs. All parts of the plant are covered with fine textured hairs. Grows 24" tall and 36" wide. (Photo Credit André Karwath aka Aka)


T. hirta ‘Tojen’

Tricyrtis Tojen

Think BIG! Both the leaves and the plant are about 3 times the size of other varieties. The flowers have yellow throats, orchid pink tips, and no spots. No seedlings. Grows 24" tall and 36" wide.


T. maculata

Huge leaves (up to 8" long and 3" wide) adorned with purple spots scaled up in size to match. Very free flowering with seemingly millions of dark purple spots on each flower. Grows 22–30" tall and wide.

tricyrtis_hirta235

Tricyrtis hirta

FACTS: TRICYRTIS

Family: Liliaceae

Genus: Tricyrtis

Common Name: Toad Lily

Origin: The range of the genus Tricyrtis is at moderate to high altitude from the Himalayas to eastern Asia and into Japan and Taiwan. The most commonly cultivated species are native to Japan (T. hirta), Taiwan (T. formosana), and China (T. maculata).

Culture: Surprisingly cold hardy (Zone 4) considering their tropical origin, the only requirement for growing Tricyrtis successfully in the Pacific Northwest is moist, humus rich soil. Even that is hardy a requirement since plants will live just fine in dry soil, but will produce fewer flowers than if more moisture was available. Any amount of light which does not include hot afternoon sun is suitable, though very deep shade could be an impediment.

Maintenance: Apply slug bait in spring! Slugs love Tricyrtis, and can kill it by eating the new shoots in spring so that it can never get started for the season.Cut back after flowering in the fall. If seedlings appear (which is common with T. hirta) pot them up and share with friends. Reseeding to the point of being a nuisance is quite unlikely.

Pest and Disease: Irregular or inadequate watering causes brown streaks on the leaves, which could be mistaken for pest or disease damage. Rust is generally only a problem in more humid climates, but if it happens, make sure all affected leaves and stems are removed from the area when cut back in the fall.