A favorite October bloom


Several seedlings of toad lily (Tricyrtis) have reached flowering age without notable differences between seedlings and parents. With a dozen or more cultivars in the garden, opportunities for cross pollination are present, but if there are variations from parent plants the differences are slight on second year plants. Flower buds on seedlings of ‘Miyazaki’ (below) stand slightly more erect on young plants, and foliage in nearly full sun was not damaged in the late summer heat as on parent plants. But, these minor differences could be cultural rather than genetic.

Seedlings of Miyazaki toad lily are identical (or nearly so) on second year plants.
Seedlings of Miyazaki toad lily are identical (or nearly so) on second year plants.

Probably, the non-collector would see little difference in flowers of the various cultivars (and seedlings), though growth habits vary from upright to sprawling, and several have variegated foliage edged in cream or yellow. The trumpet shaped flowers of all are close in form, with six showy (often spotted) tepals and stamens uniquely arranged to deliver sticky pollen to the hairy backs of bumblebees that dive deep into the flower for nectar. Occasionally, larger bumblebees will be seen stealing nectar (below) by biting through the base of the flower, though most blooms are open enough to accommodate even the largest bees. This behavior is akin to cutting in line, and should not encouraged.

Bumblebee "stealing" nectar from a toad lily flower.
Bumblebee “stealing” nectar from a toad lily flower.

Toad lilies will hardly make the show of larger flowered and more common autumn mums and pansies, and are not so well suited to planting in mass for floral effect. The refined flower is enjoyed more at close range rather than from the street while driving past. But, if planted from a gallon container, the toad lily is tough and here to stay with little care required by the gardener for the next few decades.

Toad lilyWith an unfortunate predilection for neglect of new plantings, I’ve lost a few toad lilies in small pots obtained from specialty growers, for which I am entirely to blame. The loss of yellow and white flowered toad lilies is disappointing, and the lesson, for similarly abusive gardeners (assuming there are some out there), is that larger pots with greater root mass are encouraged to avoid losses.

Toad lilies did not wilt in the freeze. I expected that flowers and foliage would fade, but only a few toad lilies show any ill effect.
With early new growth in April, several toad lilies were damaged in late freezes. As expected, damaged foliage was quickly shed with no long term ill effect.


Stems of Lightning Strike toad lily have lost rigidity in the late summer drought, but flowering has not been effected.
Stems of Lightning Strike toad lily have lost rigidity in the late summer drought, but flowering has not been effected.





4 Comments Add yours

  1. Gary Maybarduk says:

    My toad lilies come back and flower each year, but i am always disappointed that the foliage has largely died back by the time they bloom. it used to turn black, but I transferred them to a drier location. Now the foliage just dies back before flowering.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Dave says:

      I’ve planted toad lilies in a range from shade to full sun. In most summers there is a little browning of leaves in full sun, but this year, with sustained ninety degree temperatures and very little rain through August and most of September, damage was much worse. I’ve not had the problem you’ve experienced, but suspect that it could be the result of too much sun. I have planted most toad lilies in relatively dry areas, and see best results then they are shaded from the late afternoon sun.

  2. Ennis Kelly says:

    Do deer like these flowers?

    1. Dave says:

      I will have occasional deer damage on toad lilies if I don’t spray with a repellent, so I spray as a precaution. There are a couple that are tucked out of the way that I skip over, and rarely do these have a problem.

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