By Ralph E. Mitchell
I went to Bok Tower Gardens late last year; I saw a few plants that rekindled my interest in their use in our area of Southwest Florida. Last January, I wrote about the leopard plant and was impressed with its use in containers at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota County. But when I saw how they were installed as a flowing mass planting at Bok Tower – it really caught my eye! The perennial leopard plant is an interesting selection that sports large, attractive green leaves and yellow blooms preferring shade to part-shade conditions. The praises of the leopard plant are worth repeating!
The leopard plant originally comes from the warmer parts of Japan and is best grown in hardiness zones 7 to 10. As such, we have the ideal climate for this evergreen plant. The large leaves are somewhat kidney to lily-pad in shape, and in the biggest cultivars, are about fifteen to eighteen inches across in size. One resource also called them the “tractor seat plant” which is a very accurate description! An up-to -two-foot stem gives the collective leaves an impressive feature in any perennial shade garden. And that’s not all! Out of these plants springs a cluster of yellow, daisy-like flowers in fall and early winter.
As the leopard plant does best in shade/part-shade light conditions, take advantage of this somewhat rare characteristic and create gardens under the shade of trees or structures with mass plantings. Leopard plants are also well adapted to large containers for a shady porch or deck. They do like their soil moist, but well-drained, so keep this in mind as you manage the irrigation. Propagation is as easy as dividing the clumps in the spring to expand your collection or give divisions to a friend or neighbor.
While the leopard plants I have seen never looked very leopard-like, and were in fact spotless, the large selection of cultivars is worth investigating. The all-green varieties are locally available, but the fancier cultivars will take an Internet search to acquire. From the pictures I have seen, some that I would like to try include ‘Aureomaculatum’ which sports yellow spots on green leaves, ‘Kinkan’ with yellow-edged leaves, ‘Crispatum’ where the foliage is curled almost like lettuce, and ‘Kagami Jishi’ with both frilly leaves and yellow spots. If you like more impressive flowers, there is even a double-flowering type. You can become a varietal collector of this plant in short order!
Leopard plants may offer you a new plant palette as you create or recreate your garden. This exciting plant will be a conversation starter and cultivate new fans of this horticultural wonder! For more information on all types of perennial plants suitable for our area, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions – Farfugium. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Warner, K. (2017) Fact sheet: Leopard Plant. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Nassau County
Masters A. & Admin. Land of the Giants: The Giant Leopard Plant. Gardenologist. https://gardenologist.org/land-of-the-giants-the-giant-leopard-plant/
Dabbs, A. (2017) Leopard Plant. Clemson Cooperative Extension.