Photo by Melody

African Hosta (Little White Soldiers)

By Marie Harrison (can2growJune 4, 2013

How many people have planted plants in their gardens and promptly lost the identification tag? Such was the case of a little plant that quickly became a favorite. Although I have grown it several years, only recently have I been able to identify it. Initially, I identified it as Drimiopsis, but that turned out to be a synonym. Further research revealed its genus to be Ledebouria.

Gardening picture
The Genus and Family
Ledebouria as a genus of bulbous plants from South Africa. Typically leaves are variously textured and may be patterned with spots or stripes of purplish colors, or they may be plain. Plants characteristically form a rosette of leaves, and flowers varying in color from lilac, pink, purple, green, or yellowish green are produced on unbranched racemes (clusters). Usually a green stripe runs down the length of each flower petal. 

APG III Taxonomic System places the genus in the Asparagaceae family while other systems place it in Hyacinthaceae or Liliaceae. APG III Taxonomic System lists eight species on the GRIN website, but the Pacific Bulb Society recognizes sixty plus species in sub-Saharan Africa plus one or two additional species in both India and Madagascar. 

ImageThe Species
The Ledebouria in my garden is L. petiolata (syn. Drimiopsis maculata), commonly called little white soldiers or African hosta. Fleshy oblong/ovate leaves with wavy margins held on slender petioles have dark purple spots when the leaves first emerge, but these spots disappear in summer leaving a solid green leaf. Plants are capable of growing up to one foot tall, but mine have never reached that stature and top out at 6 to 8 inches tall. Flowers arise in spring and are held a few inches above the foliage. A tight cluster of white flower buds opens and turns pale green. Bulbs are fleshy with large visible scales reminiscent of lily bulbs.

When I first obtained this plant, I purchased it because I thought it was pretty. Although it was a new plant to me, I planted it in a shady spot at the foot of some pilings I had sunk into the ground some years back. There it has stayed for about 10 years, gradually increasing in size, but not as fast as I’d like it to. I have never divided it; in spring I give it a sprinkling of slow-release fertilizer and it receives a very limited amount of water from a nearby mister. Once in a while I may water it with the hose, especially if I’m already in the backyard giving other plants a drink. Never have I turned the hose on for the specific purpose of watering the Ledebouria

Neither insects nor diseases have bothered this plant. Slugs and snails ignore it, and nothing to my knowledge has ever nibbled on it. My garden does not have deer or rabbits, so I cannot testify as to its resistance to these animals.

Tolerant of both heat and drought, African hosta prefers light shade and well-draining but slightly moist soil. However, it is tolerant of a wide range of light exposures ranging from part sun to dark shade. It is hardy in Zones 8-10, or perhaps even to 7B. Since the foliage is deciduous and dies down in winter, the bulb is protected beneath the soil. A layer of organic mulch will help protect the bulb in areas of marginal hardiness. Propagation is by division, and clumps can be divided every few years or whenever they become crowded. 

In the Garden
Situated in an out-of-the way place in my garden, I would never see the African hosta if I didn’t purposely
look  for it. Visitors never see it, so it is my secret. That, of course, means I need to move it to a more prominent place so everyone can enjoy this attractive plant. 
Gardeners who encounter African hosta in garden centers are encouraged to add it to their landscapes if they have a suitable place. Those out of range of its hardiness areas might wish to grow it in a container and move it to a protected place in winter. Whichever way you choose to grow African hosta, it is sure to be a pleaser. 

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 Eight species are listed by the GRIN website:

Ledebouria botryoides, L. cooperi, L. floribunda, L. humifusa, L. kirkii, L. petiolata, L. revoluta, and L. socialis.


  About Marie Harrison  
Marie HarrisonServing as a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener immerses me in gardening/teaching activities. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at

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