Hostas: It's not Always About the LeavesBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
May 18, 2012
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.
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.
The following table lists hostas with particularly beautiful single flowers:
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:
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.
Hosta 'Fujibotan' in author's garden
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© Larry Rettig 2009