A Little About White Hostas

I’m not sure I should admit this in writing, but the first time I saw a white hosta, at quick glance I thought it was dead.  Was it just a clump of overwintered leaves that had been neglected during spring cleanup?

As I’m not one to seek out a black petunia, a blue rose, or, for that matter a white hosta – it just seemed logical that the plant was ill or had befallen an unfavorable fate.  But at a closer look, I was definitely wrong.  It was a white hosta – healthy, and surprisingly quite interesting and even beautiful.  (In retrospect, I think it must have been a Hosta White Feathers).

H. 'White Feathers'

‘White Feathers’ emerges nearly all white.

It turns out that a white hosta can be very much alive, with a few asterisks to the definition:

  • ALL WHITE HOSTAS:  A seemingly magical plant, brilliant in its all white hue.  Well, be wary because no matter your gardening experience a truly all-white plant will die.  There are some hostas that emerge entirely white, BUT in order to survive they turn to green as the season progresses.  Remember back to biology class and that plants use chlorophyll to make their food – so all plants need some green tissue.  But as long as the hosta can produce and store enough energy for its survival, there can be many possible color combinations.
  • PARTIALLY WHITE HOSTAS:  Color changes are actually fairly common in hostas, and can affect the whole plant, the leaf center, the margins, etc.  While external factors like sunlight and soil can affect the color, more permanent variations are due to genetic mutations.  The most frequent changes are:
    • Viridescence:  Emerge white or yellow and turn green.
    • Lutescence:  Emerge with shades of green that turn to shades of white or yellow.
    • Albescence:  Emerge in a shade of yellow-green and turn to near white.
H. 'Guardian Angel' displays viridescence

‘Guardian Angel’ displays viridescense

H. 'Little Aurora' displays lutescence

‘Little Aurora’ displays lutescence

H. 'Celebration' displays albescence

‘Celebration’ displays albescence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To determine the difficulty to grow, consider the ratio of white to green in the plant.  As a loose rule of thumb, the more white tissue there is, the more sensitive the plant and the more particular it will be about sunlight.  Additionally, white leaf tissue is often thinner, and can easily burn or melt-out.

Also remember, these plants need to create their food either in a fewer number of days/weeks than green hostas, or using less chlorophyll than green hostas.  They need the opportunity to make the most of what they’re given.

Perhaps this will be the summer I get my hands dirty.  I like the bold look of Lakeside Spellbinder and also the upright shape of Fireworks.

H. 'Lakeside Spellbinder'

H. ‘Lakeside Spellbinder’

H. 'Fireworks'

H. ‘Fireworks’

A new favorite plant: Milkweed

That’s right, forget hosta and forget heuchera.  Let’s talk about milkweed.

A. curassavica

Asclepias curassavica, Mexican Butterfly Weed

It’s a herbaceous perennial, it grows in sun, and it flowers in shades of yellows, oranges, pinks and purples.  It can be worked into native plantings, mass plantings, in borders and in garden beds.  It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, and honeybees eat its nectar.

The plant tissue contains cardiac glycosides, a compound whose toxicity varies by specie, but which if ingested in a large enough quantity could supposedly wipe out a horse.  In fact, the genus, Asclepias, was named for the God of medicine and healing in Greek mythology.

A. incarnata

Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed

But here’s the important part – milkweed is host to monarch butterflies.  Monarch caterpillars munch on the leaves, ingest the cardenolides, and then have a bitter and sickening form of self-defense against predators.  Unfortunately, predators are not their only problem.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch populations are in trouble as habitats shrink and weather patterns shift.  Also, depending on what you choose to believe, pesticide use may be a factor.

I have to admit, butterflies are not my forte, but Tom has a wonderful compassion for nature, and as I understand from him, one of the best ways we can help the monarchs is to plant milkweed.

milweed pod

Hundreds of seeds and silky fluff wait inside the large pod.

It can be grown by seed, planted directly in the ground in the fall if it needs cold stratification, or by seed or small plant in the spring.

monarch watch picFind more details at http://monarchwatch.org/.

The Root of the Matter

This post is for anyone looking at their plant and thinking, ‘wow, it’s just so small!’, or ‘this is never going to grow!’.  It can be hard to ignore the frustration that your tiny, three leaved plant doesn’t look like the mature beauty you’ve been drooling over on google images and then the doubt sets in and you figure your baby plant will mistakenly be pulled as a weed or you won’t be around to see it mature.

But don’t worry!  At least try not to worry.

H. 'Teeny-Weeny Bikini'

A Hosta Teeny-Weeny Bikini from our greenhouse in late March. The first leaves are emerging, but the roots steal the show.

H. 'Teeny-Weeny Bikini' roots

The roots of Hosta Teeny-Weeny Bikini.   They have enough structure to support the growing plant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead of feeling disappointed with the leaves, you should feel reassured when you examine the roots.  As long as you’ve got a strong network of roots, (white and abundant), then you have a healthy plant that will definitely grow with space, light, water, and time.

I’ve been guilty of just admiring the flowers and emerging leaves, without giving a second thought to what I can’t see, but it’s slowly being ground into my head – roots are important too!  They suck water and nutrients up from the soil and deliver them to the body of the plant.  Roots also need oxygen, so your healthy rootball should not be too compacted.

The roots need to develop ahead of the stems and leaves in order to provide them energy.  Even when you plant a seed, remember that a single root shoot, the radicle, grows before we ever see the first leaf, and that germination has begun before we even realize.

H. 'Blue Mammoth'

From our greenhouse, the first leaf on a Hosta Blue Mammoth.

H. 'Blue Mammoth' roots

The same Hosta Blue Mammoth. These roots are gorgeous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when you have a beautiful root system, trust nature to do what it does best, and your leaves will come.