Hostas, named after the noted Austrian botanist Nicholas Thomas Host, are perennially growing herbaceous plants, which are very popular as garden plants, specially cultivated for their excellent foliage. However, being herbaceous, these plants wither away during the winter months. At other times of the year, hostas provide us with a blend of pleasures and practicalities. The vast range of dissimilar shapes, hues and textures of the hostas plants as well as the different ways of using them provides great excitement. On the other hand, the particularities are derived from the truth that these are exceptionally “sensible” plants. These plants can be utilized to provide the strength of character to the borders in the gardens all through the seasons. Moreover, their growth is so dense that they provide excellent ground cover in places in the shade.
Compared to many other plants, hostas do not have a big genus. In fact, this genus comprises roughly 40 species. Then again, several thousand, probably innumerable, cultivars of hostas are in existence, which has been raised in Japan and America. These plants have their origin in eastern Asia – ranging from China to Japan and Korea. Basically, hostas are native to forest lands and they have a preference for growing in light shade. What is amazing about hostas is that these plants grow equally well in moist, marshy lands as well as in extremely arid conditions.
The size of hostas varies greatly. These plants may be tiny, not growing above a few inches in height, to being huge clumps that are about two feet in height – if you include their flowers, the height increases. An individual hosta plant forms dome-like foliage and as the plant matures the foliage spreads, making the dome broader. When you plant hostas in the very close vicinity, the individual plants merge to develop into an unbroken and effectual ground cover.
Almost all people who cultivate hostas grow them, especially for the plants’ foliage. The shape of the leaves of hostas also differs considerably – from being slender and thin to some leaves being more or less round in shape. The surface of these leaves is pleated closely, which creates a light and shade play. The margins of hostas leaves also vary – while some are flat, there are others that are crimped. Even the texture of the leaves can be different – from glossy to unexciting.
The color variation of the plants is also wonderful. However, the assortment of colors is comparatively restricted. As is the case with all plant foliages, the fundamental element is green – the variety of greens is vast, ranging from pale green to deep green. On the other hand, the leaves’ textures have an effect on these colors – for instance, a glossy deep green leaf is somewhat dissimilar to a dull dark green.
The hue of the leaves is completely changed due to the white and cream and yellow and gold impact of the foliage. All of a sudden the leaves seem to become livelier. However, the green color is never lost and it continues to linger in the background. This is good for the plant, for, in the absence of the green hue of the leaves, it would be impossible for the plants to photosynthesize as well as produce their food. The green leaves of the main plants either have a white or yellow margin. Sometimes, the green itself forms the margin, while the color variation is in the middle. In fact, the variegation may be even or asymmetrical. The leaves are seldom splattered with uneven splashes.
At times, the color of the entire leaf is yellow or gold. However, some green is always present in these colors. Even when the leaves unfold as a chaste color, they soon have a green tinge. The hosta leaves only have a genuine color break when they have a blue pigment, which is actually greenish blue, but after all, it is blue. While the green leaves may sometimes be glaucous – coated with some kind of delicate grey colored powder, this is most prominent on the leaves that have a bluish tinge. This makes the leaves even more attractive.
In their excitement for the plants’ foliage, people often overlook the flowers of hostas. In fact, some cultivators even cut off the flowers. Nevertheless, the hosta flowers are extremely beautiful part of the plant. The stems of these plants generally do not have any leaves and they appear well past the foliage. Each of these stems produces a set of pendulous flowers, which resemble those of lily. The color of hostas flowers differs – ranging from white and lilac to somewhat deep blue. When grown in shady or dark locations, the plants do not produce enough or very attractive flowers. However, they flower well when cultivated in partial shade. The flowers’ light tinge denotes that they are prominent and beautiful, while several other flowers peter out into the obscure background. The plants start producing flowers from the middle of the summer.
Hostas add a lot of value to your gardens. Besides all other things, these plants just look attractive and adjust in various ways with other plants, for instance, roses, tulips and irises. In addition, they also provide a valuable and eye-catching ground cover. They also contribute wonderfully to gardens in other ways – for instance, hostas are wonderful plants for growing in shaded conditions. You may grow them under the shade of trees or in an open shade next to north walls.
Many people often ignore one aspect of hostas – these plants grow very well in containers and pots. While the pots and containers may be set in full sunlight outdoors, provided you are watering the plants well, hostas are best suited for growing in shady conditions, especially when it is problematic to find any other suitable plants to grow in containers in such places. You may grow hostas in clumps in the borders of your garden for several years, but then it becomes essential to repot the plants grown in containers once in three to four years. Doing this will help to maintain the fresh appearance of the plants and also check the plants from being pot bound.
It is very easy to cultivate hostas. These plants thrive excellently in damp forest land soil, especially soils that contain lots of properly decomposed organic substances. Therefore, it is best to treat the entire border with such compost. However, if the compost is not available in sufficient amounts, you may just treat the spot just about the plants. It has been found that hostas grow most excellently in light shade, but you can also grow these plants in places receiving complete sunlight. However, if you are growing hostas in full sunlight, it is essential to ensure that the soil remains moist, as these plants can endure drought better when grown in shade.
Growing hostas in light shade have another advantage. For instance, when the plants are grown under the light shade of trees or shrubs, they are protected from frosts and hail. While this aspect may appear to be insignificant, this may become a very important issue in places that are troubled by summer storms, because they can shred the foliage in a few seconds ruining the plants’ entire show. Even strong winds may prove to be a major problem, particularly if they are carrying enough sea salt. The over-hanging shrubs and trees are useful for hostas, as they provide protection to the plants. However, when grown in extreme conditions, it may be essential to provide the plants with an additional windbreak.
The ideal time for planting hostas is in the fall when the soil is sufficiently warm to help the roots get established. Alternatively, you may also plant hostas during the spring, when things are just beginning to warm up. While planting hostas outdoors, you should ensure that the plants are planted to the depth that they were in while growing in the pots. Subsequent to the planting, water the hostas properly and also mulch the plants with a view to conserve the moisture in the soil. Ensure that you water the plants every day and, if needed, continue watering daily for about a week or till the plants get established in the new environment.
Although growing hostas is easy, many growers are often confronted with a serious problem – an infestation of snails and slugs. These are so harmful to hosts that they can destroy the attractive look of any hosta just overnight. Therefore, it is advisable that you go out with a torch in the garden at night and collect as many snails and slugs to reduce their population. People who do not grow the plants organically or use chemicals can get rid of slugs more easily – in fact, this way you can surely get rid of the slugs and ensure complete protection to the foliage. In addition to these methods, growers are advised to adopt various other conventional means to get rid of slugs and snails, including encircling the plants with dirt or ashes. However, it has not been found to be very effective in deterring the obstinate slugs.
There are some other problems that trouble many people growing hostas. For instance, a frost occurring late or after the last predicted date may ruin the emerging leaves and make them turn to mush. When this occurs, the plants generally do not recuperate until the subsequent year. Therefore, this problem can only be solved by closely watching the frost dates and covering the plants using sheets, old blankets, fleece, towels or any other thing you may have to protect the plants.
Growing hostas under the shade of shrubs and trees may shield the plants to some extent, but even in this case, severe frosts will continue to pose a serious problem. If you are growing hostas in cold regions, it may be necessary to provide the plants with general protection during the winter months.
Precisely speaking, hostas are indigenous to the East, especially Japan. When the Westerners first discovered this herbaceous plant, they were somewhat unclear about placing this species correctly in the plant kingdom. A botanist, as well as a physician with the Dutch East India Company, Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1715), is said to be the first Westerner to discover a hosta. According to available documents, he was certainly the first Westerner to draw as well as describe the plant. Dr Kaempfer named these plants in the complex or discursive and pre-Linnaean approach. He named one plant as Joksan, vulgo gibbooshi Gladiolus Plantagenis folio (which when translated into English means “the common or regular hosta plant having leaves resembling those of plantains”). He named another plant just Gibbooshi altera (which means “the other hosta”).
Carl Thunberg (1743-1828), another botanist and physician employed with the Dutch East India Company and debuted in Japan, rechristened the plants later in the prevailing new Linnaean binomial approach. He named one hosta plant Aletris japonica, and in 1784, he re-classified the plant to the genus Hemerocallis.
It was Leopold Trattinick (1761-1848), an Austrian botanist, who was the first to propose the generic name Hosta in 1812. The species has been named after Nicholas Thomas Host (1761-1834), to homer this Austrian botanist. Host authored the book “Flora Austriaca” and did remarkable work on grasses. He was also the royal physician to the Emperor Frances II. Subsequently, German botanist and physician Kurt Sprengel proposed another generic name for the species – Funkia, which was eventually discarded as being illegal. Nevertheless, this generic name of the plant passed into several European languages as hostas’ common name.
In the meantime, the plant itself began arriving in the West. H. plantaginea was the first species that reached Europe. In fact, the French consul based in Macao shipped the seeds of this species to the Paris-based Jardin des Plantes sometime between 1784 and 1789. Soon, thousands of plants of this hosta species, which was initially known as Hemerocallis plantaginea, were grown in several public gardens in France. H. ventricosa, another Chinese hosta species, also reached France soon.
Primarily, hostas began arriving in the West approximately four decades after. Actually, Philipp von Siebold (1791-1866), who was one of the many botanists and doctors working in Japan, was responsible for the influx of this plant in the West. In 1829, his maiden shipment of hostas from Japan reached Europe. Soon other well-known plant collectors including Robert Fortune (1813-1880) and the American botanist Thomas Hogg Jr. (1819-1892) also started shipping Japanese hostas to Europe.
It is interesting to note that even to this day many people continue to introduce hostas from the country of their origin to the West. In 1985, the US National Arboretum mounted an expedition to bring back two new hosta species – H. jonesii and H. yingeri, from Korea.