Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dear Iris: Hosta

Friendship Plant Known for Foliage

Dear Iris - By JULIE JOHNSTON, Master Gardener intern | Feb 02, 2012

While the plant seen in many gardens has many names, the real name for the plant grown mainly for its foliage is Hosta. Other names are Friendship Plant, Plantain Lily and Funkia. Hostas are easy to grow, shade tolerant, herbaceous perennials. Hostas are grown by some because they are pretty much care free, but I grow them for their beautiful foliage. The “Friendship Plant” name came from the sharing of divisions among friends.
Hosta leaves come in a wide range of shapes, colors, sizes, and textures. Some have ruffled edges, some leaves appear to be quilted. The leaves may be streaked, speckled or splashed or have a different colored edge. Plants range in size from the dwarf at 4 inches tall and 6 inches across, to giant, standing 28 inches tall and perhaps 5 feet across. Some cultivars have scapes — the flower stem — as tall as 60 inches.
Some hybridizers have made it their goal to increase the size or fragrance of the Hosta flower, resulting in some lovely lily look-alikes. Others focus on the shape or size of the leaves or the coloring of the leaves, which range from deep dark green to rather bluish to pale gold. Many of the newer cultivars have deep red petioles — stems — with some of the red creeping into the leaves as well. I like all of them, and my garden will never have enough Hosta to suit me.

Native to Japan, Korea and China, Hosta were first imported and grown in Europe in the late 1700s. By the mid-1800s, Hosta were growing in the United States. Collectors still visit the Far East in search of “new” species, but most new cultivars come from the efforts of Hosta hybridizers. Today, there are hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars available to the home gardener as a result of hybridizing and tissue culture propagation.

If you receive a Hosta from another gardener, it will come from crown division, which is the way all Hostas used to be propagated. This is a slow process if large numbers are desired. Today’s market needs of many Hosta and Hosta cultivars are met by tissue culture, which is now the preferred process of propagation. This has brought about a growing problem known as Hosta Virus X because it can spread much more quickly through propagations methods.

While primarily trouble-free, Hosta have two problems of which you need to be aware. One is HVX mentioned above and the other is foliar nematodes.

HVX shows mottling of the leaves, which ultimately become brown spots. This disease is spread through use of unclean utensils, so sterilized equipment is a must. More on this disease is a column by itself.
Foliar nematodes are disease-causing organisms that attack the plant above ground. The most common symptom in Hosta is the development of linear lesions between the leaf veins, which become brown and eventually turn black. Other symptoms may be stunting, bunching of leaves around the crown, multicolored leaves, lack of flowering and death. In addition to Hosta, some of the most common hosts include anemone, strawberry, phlox, verbena, zinnia, carnation, impatiens, begonia, fern and African violet.
For Hosta lovers like me, the garden never big enough, causing us to continually dig up the turf found in our yards to make room for “just one more” Hosta. I only have about 90 different cultivars, but some collectors have hundreds. One garden I visited during the American Hosta Society convention in Minnesota boasted more than 500 cultivars and more than 1,500 plants.

If you are interested in learning more, contact me at The Ledger or take a look at the American Hosta Society website at www.americanhostasociety.org. And if you are lucky enough to obtain one of these beauties from a friend, you will indeed have a “Friendship Plant.”
Julie Johnston is a Master Gardener intern.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Questions are welcome and can be directed to Master Gardener Intern and Ledger photographer Julie Johnston at photo@ffledger.com.

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