Tricrytis is a weird little plant with its starfish-shaped flowers. In my zone 4 garden, they are perhaps the last flower to open each fall but because of this, they never last long enough to fully set seed. I have to purchase new plants every few years when a particularly bad winter kills them as they are really hardy into USDA zone 5
Tricyrtis comes from the Greek treis ‘three’ and kyrtos meaning ‘convex’ referring to the three outer petals which are convex or swollen at their base. Toad Lily is a bit more speculative. It is possible that ‘toad’ is AngloSaxon and the word is not well translated; possibly having the meaning of father (from Welsh), or the reptile toad (Friesland), or even dough (German). While these all make a good story, don’t put any money on the source of the name Toad Lily.
- Flower height: 2-3 feet
- Width: 12-18 inches
- Bloom time: November
- Hardiness: Zone 5 reliably, zone 4 in most years
- Use: Woodland, Cut flower
- Sunshine: shade lover
- Soil preferred: Well-drained but moisture-retentive acidic soils
- Propagation method: Seed, division
Plant each toad lily plant at the front of the perennial border as the flower is small and inconspicuous when mixed into the larger hosta and other fall survivors in the shade garden.
And do note that this is a shade lover that appreciates a woodland type soil – one high in organic matter with regular waterings. They will tolerate dry conditions but the operative word here is tolerate – they will not thrive in dry shade.
Excess moisture should drain away and clay is not recommended as the plant will rot. A permanent mulch is an excellent method of keeping the soil cool and damp this plant desires, as well as holding down the weed levels.
Acidic soils are preferred although I grow them on a sandier more neutral soil. Alkaline soils are not recommended which is what I grow on now compared to the nursery sandier soils. 🙁
The plant grows best when organic matter is plentiful in the soil.
Tricyrtis also make excellent cut flowers.
If you live in a warmer zone that USDA 5, you will find that dividing the clumps every 3 – 5 years will keep them growing more vigorously and producing more flowers.
Plants to Look For
T. formosana (Formosa toad lily)
This plant blooms a bit earlier than the Japanese toad lily and has some interesting varieties commonly available in garden centres. ‘Dark Beauty’ is a late flowering variety with soft mauve petals and heavily spotted with dark purple blotches and yellow eye.
‘Samurai’ is a compact Japanese variety. The green leaves have a narrow gold-yellow edge while the flowers are a medium purple with darker spotting. May not be quite as hardy as other varieties (but the jury is still out on it)
‘Seiryu’ is another Japanese variety that has been in the nursery trade for many years (often found as ‘Hatatogisa’ the common name in Japanese)
T. hirta or Japanese toad lily
This plant produces arching stems of white flowers that are usually heavily blotched with purple. Foliage is a medium green and usually makes a good clump.
Albomarginata The flowers are white with purple spotting and the foliage is dark green. The leaves however are edged with a white stripe. This plant does not like hot sun at all and has been very slow to establish in my garden.