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.