The turf lily

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Liriope muscari Samantha and Liriope muscari Variegata grow alongside a path

There are some plants in the garden that are so undemanding that we tend to take them for granted. They grow away quietly, their blooms may not be spectacular but they make a very positive contribution to the garden when their season comes, and so deserve to have the spotlight on them at that time. Such is the case with the so-called the turf lily, Liriope, which hails from China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan.

Variegated-leaf cultivar of Liriope muscari grow alongside a path, garden of Anne Prescott in Sydney

This is a tough little perennial (ht 30-60 cm) that grows as an arching clump of shiny, slim, evergreen leaves and is happy to grow in dry, shady spots, although will also cope with some sun. It is starting to flowers now, sending up little spikes of tightly clustered bell-like blooms, rather reminiscent of the grape hyacinth, Muscari, which sadly doesn't do very well in our Sydney gardens, but lends its name to one species of Liriope: Liriope muscari. The most basic form has plain green leaves with purple flower spikes; 'Monroe White' has white blooms. They look effective grown with contrasting rounded leaves, such as those of the succulent London pride (Crassula multicava) or any of the ground-covering rhizomatous Begonias. It is excellent used as an edging alongside paths.

Gold-variegated form of Liriope muscari

There are forms of Liriope with white-variegated leaves, such as 'Variegata'; others (such as 'Gold-banded') have leaves striped with limey-gold, paired with purple flowers, which make a very pretty groundcover in shady places if massed-planted beneath shrubs. To emphasise the variegation in the foliage, place it nearby a plain gold-leaved plant, such as Duranta 'Sheena's Gold' or golden money-penny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'). It is also attractive grown under the purple form of Plectranthus ecklonii, which often starts blooming in February and also like shade, or its smaller cousin Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'.

Liriope muscari Samantha

Liriope muscari 'Samantha' has plump lavender-pink blooms, and looks very effective nestled amongst the groundcover Plectranthus 'Nico', which has purple veins and undersides on its quilted foliage, or the dark purple leaves of Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea' or stripy Tradescantia zebrina.

Liriope muscari Evergreen Giant

'Evergreen Giant' grows to 80cm or more and is an excellent foliage plant in shade, giving the effect of an ornamental grass and providing good foliage contrast to broad-leaved plants such as Clivia, Alocasia, Begonia and bromeliads. It has purple flowers, though these are often hidden by the leaves, which are its main attraction.

Liriope spicata Silver Dragon

Another species is Liriope spicata, and 'Silver Dragon' (or more correctly 'Gin-ryu', which I have never seen it actually sold as), with greyish-green leaves with a white stripe, is one of its cultivars. It has pale lilac flowers. This looks effective growing with silver foliage plants such as Plectranthus argentatus, or with white-flowered specimens such as white hellebores or snowflakes to echo its white leaf stripes. This species is more inclined to spread, as it has a rhizomatous growth habit, and is sometimes referred to as the creeping turf lily.

All Liriope plants may produce black berries in autumn after the flowers fade. The foliage can become a bit shabby over winter, especially in colder regions, and apparently can be cut off (or even mown over!) in late August and new leaves will grow to replace the old. I have never done this, but may try it this year. Propagation is by division of the clumps.

Reader Comments

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 February 2010

    am fond of Liriopes as they fill spaces nicely, and are no trouble. I have a few varieties, and one plant similar to L.spicata mentioned, but mine has white flowers. I have had it for about five years, and this is its first flowering - a slow grower?

    Thanks, Margaret. There are some Ophiopogon that look very similar to Liriope - maybe it is one of them. In my experience, L. spicata spreads quite a bit.Deirdre

  • By jan 2072 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 February 2010

    Hi Deidre, I have cut my liriopes down to ground level when the folliage turned a brown rusty colour. In a very short time fresh new leaves appeared and this year have beautiful flowers in full bloom. Im so pleased it works. Jan

    Thanks for that information, Jan; I will try it too. Deirdre.

  • By Helen 2154 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 February 2010

    I had no idea there were so many Liriopes - one of my favourite plants. I have a border of the green miniature with purple flowers, interspersed with the variegated "society garlic", unlike you, I cant remember its name! The two have been basically neglected for about eight years. Helen.

  • By Bren 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 February 2019

    Birds distribute the seeds too. I have a woodland section in my garden and Liriopes spring up in different places, but they are never a problem; slow growing and tough as can be..... They really are good plants for challenging spots! Deirdre

  • By Kate 2068 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 February 2019

    Yes - love them in my shady garden - I have also trimmed to good effect. I acquired what looks like a large version - with white flower spikes. It does not like to spread. Can I send a pic? Kate That sounds interesting, Kate, You could send me a photo to Deirdre

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