Have you ever seen a toad lily? With a name like that, do you imagine an unusual or less-than-beautiful bloom? Toad lilies are, in fact, lovely and resemble very small orchids; they are ideal if you have plenty of trees in your yard, and lots of shaded flower beds. They are the perfect solution to discovering beautiful flowering plants that grow well in a shady environment, and they are idea for our Oklahoma climate.

A name like toad lily doesn't bring to mind images of beauty, but this easy-to-grow fall bloomer certainly does not resemble its name. With flowers that look like orchids which come in colors of white, purple and yellow, it is the perfect plant for beginning and experienced gardeners alike because it takes very little care; it is a perennial, so it will come back every year to add color to your shade bed.

Toad lily blooms show up in late summer with buds all along their arching stems, starting at the tip and growing down the stem. The flowers aren't huge, but there are many on each plant and they can last up to six weeks in the fall. You are probably wondering why they are called "toad lilies," and that has to do with the spots on the blooms.

Most of these flowers have tiny spots of contrasting colors on them, and some varieties also have spots on their foliage.

One of the most popular varieties is "Miyazaki" which is easy to find and a prolific bloomer; it is white with a profusion of lavender to purple spots with a yellow throat. "White Towers" is a variety that has white petals with a yellow throat and tiny purple tips on the center of the flower. If you like yellow, then "Golden Leopard" is the plant for you; it is deep yellow with crimson spots on the petals.

Toad lilies need part to full shade with moist, humus-rich soil; you may want to add a shovel or two of compost in your planting hole if your soil isn't so great. They are terrific planted in a bed with hostas, because their distinctive foliage is a real compliment to the broader leaves of the hosta.

Also, the stems of the toad lily grow up and over, which creates an arching habit with graceful flowers that hang over lower growing foliage.

Be sure to give your lilies plenty of room when you are planting, as their arches can easily crowd other foliage plants.

This perennial is slow to start growing in the spring, which can be of great benefit, since the foliage and flowers are easily damaged by frost.

The toad lily root is a rhizome which grows very slowly, so the plants rarely need dividing; however, if you want more plants, you can split toad lilies in early spring just after the leaves begin to emerge. Dig up the clumps and split them into pieces with a sharp spade or knife.

Replant or pot these divided plants at the same depth as they were when they came up, and water them deeply. They should take hold and grow well. Sometimes, toad lilies seed themselves, but you can't count on the new plants to look like the original ones.

Toad lilies are ideally suited for Oklahoma gardens; mine suffered from the heat the past two years, but this year their blooms are glorious!

And, even in the hot weather, the blooms still brighten up a shade bed, even when the foliage doesn't look great. These flowers are long-blooming and require little care; plant them this year to add color to your shade garden.

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