Given such a staggering number of different leaves and the phenomenal--dare I say fanatical--interest in them, it's hard to believe that hostas were originally grown for their flowers. One of the first hostas to reach Europe was the old standby, Hosta plantaginea, with its plain green leaves. It was especially valued for its fragrant white blossoms.
*Zilis, Mark R. The Hostapedia, Q & Z Nursery, Inc., Rochelle, IL, 2009.
Hosta plantaginea in author's garden Hostas originally came from China, Japan , and Korea, where they're native. The first Westerner ever to see a hosta was Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1715), a doctor and botanist with the Dutch East India Company. He sketched them, wrote descriptions of them, and even named them. To one he gave the impossibly long moniker, 'Joksan, vulgo gibbooshi Gladiolus Plantagenis folio,' which translates approximately as "the common hosta with the plantain-like leaves." He named another 'Gibbooshi altera,' meaning simply "the other hosta." A second doctor and botanist, Carl Thunberg (1743-1828), who worked at the Dutch East India Company's trading post in Japan, renamed Kaempfer's two hostas in the then-new Linnaean style, giving them both a genus and a species name, for example Aletris japonica. Known today as Hosta lancifolia, it's reputed to be the first hosta on American soil.
In 1822, the Austrian botanist Leopold Trattinick (1761-1848) proposed the generic name "Hosta" to honor Nicholas Thomas Host (1761-1834) of Austria. Host was also a botanist and the author of "Flora Austriaca." Like Kaempfer and Thunberg, he was a trained physician, rising to the post of Physician to the Emperor Frances II. Other names for Hosta followed, including "Funkia" and "Plantain Lily," but "Hosta" eventually became the universally accepted name for this popular and long-lived perennial.
ABOUT THE FLOWERS
Hostas bloom in summer with spikes of lavender to white, lily-like flowers. Some gardeners regularly cut these spikes as soon as they appear, so that they don't distract from the showy leaves and the mounded habit of the plant. I grant them this preference, with the caveat that it isn't always about the leaves. I prefer to allow all of my hostas to flower. Not only do the flowers add color and interest to shady locations, letting them go to seed and allowing them to self-sow, if they wish, has produced some interesting and garden worthy specimens.
Some hosta flowers can be quite showy and deserve more attention from gardeners than they seem to be getting. Listed below are hostas with particularly showy, double blossoms.
INFORMATION PLANT VENDORS Aphrodite DG Plant
Files (Click) DG Sources
(Click) Athena DG Plant Files Source 1, 2 (Click
number) Brazen Hussy DG Plant Files None found Fujibotan DG Plant Files DG Sources Montana* DG Plant Files DG Sources Royal Super DG Plant Files Source 1, 2 Venus DG Plant Files DG Sources *Only occasionally double
The following table lists hostas with particularly beautiful single flowers:
INFORMATION PLANT VENDORS Candle Wax DG Plant Files Source 1, 2 Lakeside Hoola
Hoop DG Plant Files DG Source, 2, 3 Lemon Lime DG Plant Files DG Sources Plantaginea DG Plant Files DG Sources Ventricosa DG Plant Files DG Sources
Fragrance is another pleasing floral aspect of hostas that may be overlooked in the general focus that gardeners put on the leaves. Fragrant-flowered hostas number over 100. Click here for an extensive listing.
ABOUT THE STEMS
Colorful hosta leaf stems impart a more subtle beauty. Not always apparent at first glance, the red speckling or solid color on the leaf stems, which sometimes trails off onto the base of the leaf, are a delight to discover. There are relatively few hostas in cultivation that have this characteristic. Here are four:
INFORMATION PLANT VENDORS Fire Island DG Plant Files DG Sources Katsuragawa Beni DG Plant Files DG Source, 2, 3 Little Red Rooster DG Plant Files Source 1, 2 Red October DG Plant Files DG Sources
Add some pizazz to your hosta garden by incorporating any one of these special hostas. If you're a relative newcomer to hostas, think beyond the leaves and discover a special beauty you never knew existed. It's not too late to do it yet this year. Hostas transplant easily most any time during the growing season. Garden centers may even have one or more of these beauties at reduced prices at the tail end of the season. If not, you can order them from the linked sources in the tables above. Happy growing!
WAITING IN THE WINGS?
Author's note: I've been watching with interest--and, I admit, with some excitement--the recent development of outstanding colors, variegations, and sizes of Heuchera leaves. Like the hosta, Heucheras were originally prized for their flowers, having rather ordinary green leaves. Will history repeat itself? Will heuchera become the next hosta? Stay tuned.
Thanks to the following DG members for the use of their photos:
ViolaAnn for 'Venus,' Bert for 'Candle Wax,' Joy for 'Lakeside Hoola Hoop,' largosmom for 'Lemon Lime,' Mctavish for 'Fire Island,' Justaysam for 'Katsuragawa Beni,' jody for 'Little Red Rooster,' KevinMc for 'Red October'
Wikimedia for 'Ventricosa'
For a list of DG articles mentioning hostas, click here.
Hosta 'Fujibotan' in author's garden
Lakeside Hoola Hoop
Little Red Rooster
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© Larry Rettig 2009