These are called Hairy Toad lilies or alternatively hototogisu=“Little Cuckoo” in Japanese, tricyrtis (Latin scientific name) (in the photo they are complemented by the murasaki shikibu or Beauty Berries below it).
There is a yellow species as well. This yellow relative is a trailing tricyrtis called kijyoro-hotogisu (jyoro means watering can, a reference to the shape) is related to the earlier one, from the same family of orchids.
Read more about the tricyrtis lily in Linda Inoki’s article posted below.
“‘This is becoming a bore,’ I said one day. ‘I should like to go somewhere to hear a hototogisu singing.’ The other women enjoyed the idea and said that they wanted to accompany me. One of them suggested a bridge behind Kamo Shrine. ‘The hototogisu sings there every day,’ she said. ‘Those aren’t hototogisu,’ said someone else. ‘They’re cicadas.’ ”
This modest lily, like the Japanese little cuckoo after which it is named, is small, spotted and lives shyly in the woods. “Cuckoo lily” would be a more attractive name, but perhaps the folks who called it the “hairy toad lily” did not appreciate the poetic nature of Japan’s little bird. However, the English name draws our attention to the plant’s hairy stems, as well as the unusual toadlike bumps at the base of the buds. The flowers, which can bloom into late autumn, provide a welcome drop of nectar to bees preparing for winter. Yellow marks guide insects toward the nectar at the base of the petals, brushing pollen onto the prominent Y-shaped stigmas as they go. In the wild, one may also find a white species, spotted with pink, but the magenta version is generally more popular with gardeners and flower arrangers.
We have got two tiny seedling toad lilies and they are already blooming beautifully. Tricyrtis are extremely hardy low-maintenance perennials that send up mysterious, orchid-like blooms in the fall, a time when most plants have had their season and the garden takes on a somewhat barren look. They do require shade, deep shade and they love a good, moist soil rich in organic matter. If they don’t get their required amount of shade and moisture, you will surely see their unhappiness in the guise of ratty looking, brown foliage. They are wonderful companions to hostas, hellebores, erythroniums and woodland lillies. These all share the same cultural requirements, which makes group plantings that much easier to maintain. And with this kind of mix, you can have a long season of blooms in your shade border.
There are about 20 species in the genus Tricyrtis, which makes its home in Liliaceae, the lily family. They are mostly Asian natives, ranging from Nepal eastwards through China to Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Phillipine Islands. The greatest number and diversity is in Japan. The Japanese name for Tricyrtis is Hototogisu, which I am told, translates to “cuckoo,” probably in reference to the spotting on the leaves of several species.
Tricyrtis species are all herbaceous plants growing from a rhizomatous rootsock with fibrous outer roots. They’re all very easy to grow from seeds. The seeds germinate mid-spring and usually flower the first year. Tricyrtis are also easy to propagate clonally by cuttings. They are nodal rooters, so be sure that you have at least one node in your cuttings.