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Toad Lilies are Lovely, and That's No Hoax

The genus Tricyrtis, commonly called Toad Lilies, supposedly acquired its unfortunate name as part of a famous hoax, but the beautiful flowers deserve better.

The story goes that Manuel Elizalde, Filipino Minister of Culture during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, claimed that he had discovered the Tasaday tribe, a group of stone age hunters surviving on the island of Mindanao. In truth, the tribe was quite modern, but Elizalde persuaded them to play their part for the sake of ecotourism. They even duped National Geographic. The magazine featured the Tasaday in an article in 1972, titled "The Last Tribes of Mindanao." Eventually the tale was debunked, and in 1986, a 20/20 special highlighted the hoax in a documentary, "The Tribe that Never Was."

The stone age tribe reportedly depended on toads as their main source of protein. They crushed a certain plant and rubbed their bodies with its sticky juice, which attracted the toads, who then were easily caught in the gummy substance. None of this was true, but the poor plant came to be called Toad Lily, and the name persists to this day.

Native to Asia, toad lilies will grow in US hardiness zones 4-8. This perennial has many cultivars, growing from 1-3 feet tall and wide. An excellent source of nectar for wildlife, they begin to flower in late summer to early fall and may bloom all the way into November.
Their orchid-like blooms are small but numerous, often speckled in shades of red or purple, sometimes solid white or yellow. The lance shaped leaves resemble Solomon's Seal and are sometimes mottled or variegated. 

Tricrytis will grow in shade to partial shade in moist, rich, well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter. Good companion plants are woodland plants that prosper in similar conditions, including hostas, ferns, hardy begonias, and hellebores. 

One may propagate toad lilies by seeds or by lifting and dividing the bulbs at the base of the plant.

One warning: Although toad lilies are not bothered by many pests, deer and rabbits love this plant. I don't have deer, but last year a rabbit chewed mine down to nubs, right before they bloomed! So far, Mr. Bunny has not returned this year. Snails and slugs may also snack on the leaves. 

Toad Lilies are beautiful woodland plants. Mine are planted close to a path so that I can appreciate their small flowers as I walk by. One may also enjoy the blooms by cutting stems and bringing inside.

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Reader Comments (25)

I am unfamiliar with this plant, but it is just beautfiul! Enjoy. Jeannine

September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine

These toad lilies are exquisite, Deb! Thanks for the great explanation of how they got their name. Interesting how far even a high government official would go to encourage tourism.

September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

Ah, that explains it! I had Toad Lilies for a couple of years, and then they just vanished and didn't come back. I have a terrible rabbit problem--so they probably demolished the Toad Lilies. Darn! I really enjoyed them while they lasted, though!

September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

I am so happy you explained the odd name for such a beautiful flower/plant. I have looked and looked at it over the years and wondered how it got that name. I could never see a toad there.

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa at Greenbow

Love the cultivar Gilt Edge whose yellow margins look beautiful with Japanese forest grass, especially in association with big boulders. Sadly I have too many rabbits and deer now but enjoyed them in my last wildlife free garden.

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Chapman

a beautiful flower and interesting tale Deb, I have wondered why 'toad' lily, the photos of yours are beautiful and for me interesting to see the whole plant and how they flower along the stem, I've only seen photos of the flower before, thanks, Frances

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

This is one of those plants I've always wanted but, sadly, the cultural conditions under which I garden just won't support it. I enjoy the pictures, though - and the background on how it got its common name is fascinating!

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

Those flowers are mesmerising. They deserve a more appropriate name.

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

It looks like a little bulb sister to granadilla or passion fruit

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

I had no idea that toad lilies got their name from the Tasaday hoax. I remember that hoax well. I have a clear memory, from about age 10, of looking at a photo spread in Life magazine about the Tasaday. A rather ignominious origin for the name of a such a beautiful and unusual plant. That white splotched with purple!

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

When they first showed up for sale at the garden centers they were very expensive, and oh so beautiful...I must go and get one some day.


September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

Thank you, Deb! What an interesting story about its name! I've never heard it before. Your plant looks great! I got only one plant, it's brand new in my garden. It is blooming nicely, but I was wondering what happened with its leaves. Almost all of them disappeared recently. And I do have bunnies.... Could THEY eat the leaves?

September 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

I didn't know this story, thank you for telling us and high lighting this lovely plant; just another reason to dream of a woodland garden, but then I don't have to dream when I can share yours virtually.

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

We love Toad lilies and they do so well in our garden and reward us lovely flowers with no fail every year. Shame about the not so flattering common name but never mind, the plant and its flowers are far from ugly.

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Count me as a fan of toad lilies as well. I've got the generic spotted ones, but have been seeing more and more cool new varieties that are tempting me. As you say, the key is finding a place where the rabbits won't eat them.

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah/Galloping Horse Garden

Shameful isn't it? It is actually "Elizalde" with the "e". The main street a block away from our house is named after his family which is why I know.
I wonder if the toads were real or fake as well. *jk* ;-)

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBom

What a great, weird hoax story, which I do remember, with help from your recollection. That recollection also reminds me to get myself some toad lilies – which I find essential; they're just so unusual looking. Yours are perfection.

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

Hello, everybody! I enjoy reading all of your comments, and I appreciate all of you who take time to give some input. Tatyana, yes, those bunnies could definitely eat the leaves. Born, thanks for giving me the correct spelling for Elizalde. I have changed the post to reflect the correction. I don't know about the toads. Everything about the tribe was secretive, so they may have just told the story; I am not sure any outsiders actually witnessed the hunt. Thanks again to everyone! Deborah

September 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

I keep meaning to order some toad lilies but for some reason I never get to it! Your great post has me re-inspired: thank you!!

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkaren

This was a really interesting story. I bet Nat Geo was not too pleased, but you have to admit it was quite clever to make the ruse. It gave a plant its name too.

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I thought that toad lilies were called that for the spots, but I believe they acquired the common name before the 1960s because I thought I had seen it in old English gardening books. There are so many great toad lilies but my favorite is 'Sinonome' which is very tall and has long arching stems lined with flowers. I also like T. latifolia because it is yellow and blooms in June.

A very interesting story. Thank you.

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCecilia Duval

Well, as the deer delight in devouring these, I'm unlikely to be able to grow them. I am struck though as how similar the overall plant structure looks to Solomon's Seal. The flowers are obviously very different, but the alternating leaves along the stem are very similar in overall appearance. I didn't know about the myths surrounding Toad Lilies though, so I learned something today!

October 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

What a fascinating tale you tell... and your images are as exquisite as always, Deb. Are you feeling better?

October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

I have a large patch of toad lilies that started as a seedlings given to me by a friend. They must like the spot they're in because they've spread beautifully. But some years the bunnies do munch them, which I don't appreciate! I need the bunnies to eat the dandelions, instead.

October 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa
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