Toad lily – info, planting, care and tips

Flower of toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana)
Flower of toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana)

Despite its name, the toad lily resembles less lilies than beautifully drawn orchids. This is how to plant and care for the perennial.

Profile of toad lily:

Scientific name: Tricyrtis formosana

Plant family: lily family (Liliaceae)

Other names: Japanese orchid lily, Japanese toad lily

Sowing time: autumn

Planting time: spring

Flowering period: August to October

Location: partial shade to shade

Soil quality: gritty to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flower beds, bouquets, group planting, underplanting, borders, flower garden, natural garden, forest garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5 (-26 °C / -15 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of toad lily

Plant order, origin and occurrence of toad lily

The toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana) is one of around 20 species in the genus of toad lilies (Tricyrtis). They all belong to the large lily family (Liliaceae). Originally the species of the toad lily are native to the Himalaya as far as Japan and Korea, Tricyrtis formosana specifically only occurs in Taiwan and on the Nansei Islands, southwest of Japan. In addition, the species hairy toad lily (Tricytris hirta) is mainly cultivated and offered.

Characteristics of toad lily


The toad lily is a perennial herbaceous plant. It has a creeping rhizome and upright stems that branch out at the top and overhang slightly. The plant becomes between 40 and 80 centimeters (16 and 32 in) high and about 30 centimeters (12 in) wide.


The alternate leaves are medium green, relatively broad and ovate. The buds form on the upper third of the leaf axils.


The flowers appear from late August to October. The six delicate purple to pink, narrow, star- and calyx-shaped flowers have purple spots. With the pattern you could easily mistake the plant for lily blossoms with a tiger skin look. The petals form around a pistil with upper stamens.


The fruits are broad, cylindrical capsule fruits that contain small seeds.

Toad lily – cultivation and care


The toad lily thrives excellently in the shade and partial shade. If it is planted in moist, humus-rich soil also right in front of trees.


The soil should be rich in humus, slightly acidic and well drained. However, no waterlogging should occur at the selected location.

Planting toad lily

The toad lily is usually planted in spring, at a distance of 30 to 50 centimeters (12 to 20 in). You should make sure that you plant the entire root in the ground.


Water regularly with low-lime rainwater, especially during warm summer periods it needs to be watered daily. Always water directly at the root.


Over the course of a year the toad lily need fertilization two to three times, whereby you can also mix compost into the soil. In this way you encourage a strong bloom. In addition, you strengthen the plants sufficiently for the winter. Do not fertilize from September / October. Only fertilize with blue grain or compost now and then, when in the bucket.

Toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana)
Toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana)


Once gardening enthusiasts have taken the toad lily to their hearts, they usually want to cultivate more specimens. You have the choice between different methods for propagation:

By division

The simplest and most effective way of propagating the toad lily is to divide the rootstock in spring before the mother plant begins to sprout again. Alternatively, this type of propagation can also be carried out after flowering in autumn. For the division to be successful, each piece must have at least one bud. The new location is ideally enriched with garden compost 2 or 3 weeks beforehand. There the root stock element is set so deep into the ground that the buds are completely covered with soil.

By cuttings

The best time for this type of propagation of the toad lily is in summer before flowering. For this purpose, about 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 in) long, strong and non-flowering shoots are cut from the mother plant with a sharp knife. They should have at least 3 to 4 leaves. In the event that increased outflow of sap occurs on the mother plant at the cut wound, this area is coated with wood ash. The cuttings are placed in pots with a nutrient-poor substrate or are immediately planted in their new location. There they root within a short time if the location is right, and they are kept slightly moist at all times.

By sowing

If you don’t want to buy toad lily seeds, you can gather them yourself. In this case, the faded stems are not cut off in autumn until the seed pods dry up. This is the sign that the seeds are ripe and ready to be harvested. The capsules are cut open and the seeds are stored in a dry place out of direct sunlight for a few more days. Since these need cold to germ, it is necessary to stratify the seeds, i.e. to expose them to a cold stimulus. The growing pots are filled with a mixture of potting soil and sand. The seeds are then spread, lightly pressed but not covered with the substrate. They spend the next 8 to 12 weeks like this in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator or in a similarly cool place. During the stratification, the pots are not covered and the potting soil is always kept slightly moist. When the cold treatment is over, the pots are placed in a light, but not sunny, location where the temperature is around 18 °C / 65 °F. Germination begins after an average of 14 days. When the first tiny leaves appear, the strongest seedlings are pricked out and grown for a while in their own plant pot before they find their final home in the bed or in the tub. It usually takes about 3 years for the young toad lily to bloom for the first time.

By layers

Toad lily is also suitable for propagation by layers. This approach has the advantage that the shoot remains connected to the mother plant for longer. For this purpose, it is pulled down to the ground, where it is fixed in the soil with stones in such a way that the tip of the shoot still protrudes from the ground. So that the layer takes root more quickly, it is lightly scratched in several places beforehand with a razor blade. Only when the shoot has formed its own strong root system is it separated from the mother plant and planted in its new location.

Diseases and pests

Sometimes snails tamper with the leaves. In general, however, the late-blooming plant is insensitive to diseases and pests.


All 23 species of the genus Tricyrtis are hardy down to -26 °C / -15 °F, but only for a short time. It is therefore advisable to cover the Japanese toad lily after cutting with a thick layer of straw, brushwood or dry leaves to protect it from the cold and snow. In the bucket, the plants can linger on the balcony or terrace up to around -5 °C / +22 °F. Then it should move to a cool, dark winter quarter, such as the cellar. If there is not enough space in the house for wintering, it is important to protect the bucket from freezing through. For this purpose, it is placed on a wooden block on the south wall of the house and wrapped in protective fleece. During the winter, the toad lily only receives enough water to prevent it from drying out. As soon as the temperatures in spring are permanently above freezing, the winter protection in the bed and tub can be removed to prevent mold from forming.

Use in the garden

The shrub with its beautiful exotic flowers likes to grow in the undergrowth of bushes or in the shade of walls. In the perennial bed, the plant brings color to the garden again in autumn and enlivens even areas of shade with its dotted flower dress. Suitable companions are primroses, ferns, ornamental grasses or rhododendrons. The toad lily is also suitable as a cut flower for the vase or autumn bouquets.


There are several varieties of Tricyrtis formosana as well as hybrids.

  • Tricyrtis formosana ‘Gilt Edge’ is a toad lily variety with cream-colored variegated leaf edges. The flowers appear from September on in pink to purple.
  • The ‘Purple Beauty’ variety has white flowers with purple spots. It fits in any partially shaded bed and is well suited for group planting.
  • ‘Empress’ is a hybrid of Tricyrtis hirta and Tricyrtis formosana. The numerous appearing flowers are white and have a wine-red pattern.
  • Sinonome’ is also a Tricyrtis hybrid with white to pale lilac flowers and purple spots.

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