The strange case of the hosta flower



The usual hosta flower goes something like this.

We don’t grow them for the flowers. We grow them for the gorgeous
clumps of foliage, thick and corrugated, thin and glossy, lance-shaped or
stubby, big enough to offer shelter or strangely stunted. And in a wide range
of blues, yellows, greens, whites, even silvers, with lots of patterns as well.  In fact, had I made my stop at Plant Delights this year (it
wasn’t in the cards), I was planning to ask Tony Avent how many hosta cultivars he thought the world really needed. I’m sure I would have gotten an interesting answer. By
my count, Plant Delights has about 125 varieties for sale.


I’ve convinced myself that these work better as flowers.

And even though we don’t necessarily want or care about their
flowers, they all have flowers. Many are fragrant, too, though I have never run
across the ones Henry Mitchell describes as being the most fragrant—a type of
late-blooming plantaginea. Much attention is given to the color variegation of
the leaves, but breeders seem content to have the flowers be either lavender or
white. Tall flower scapes are valued, though you don’t always get them,
especially with the whites. In fact, with some of my white-flowered hostas, I
can hardly wait to cut down the awkward stunted-looking clumps. A faded hosta
flower scape is an ugly sight—pendulous and dirty-looking.  


The hosta seedhead. 

This is why I value my nameless hostas with the deep purple
flowers. Not only is the color a clear, definite violet, not any old muddy
lavender, the buds are neatly positioned up and down the scape, with a nice
little pause between each one. The scapes are tall, and the buds are firm and
rounded, not wispy and ragged. The emerald green leaves are big, but tend to be
scorned by my neighborhood hosta snobs. They go for the big blue one with the
stubby white flowers, huddled together near the bottom of the leaf cluster.  And I’ve never been able to find any
like my nameless purples.

So here’s my request to hosta breeders. As long as there
have to be flowers, could they be just a little more interesting—taller, more
graceful, with a slightly more discernable fragrance? As long as we have hundreds of them.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Funny you should post about this now. I have always detested hosta flowers, and regularly cut the stalks off before they even bloom. We moved into a new house last Thursday and among the 1950s foundation plantings are these dark green hostas with amazing purple flowers! I had never seen any so purple either, and I actually like them. Our old house had a large-leaved, light green late-blooming white-flowered (could there be any more adjectives in there?) hosta that I quite liked – it was beautifully fragrant. I can’t remember if I dug some of that up and brought it along or not!

  2. My plantaginea from Plant Delights is in bloom right now, beautiful pure white blossoms with an amazing scent. They glow in the morning sun, and at night. I’m still trying to find the pesky slugs eating them. though.

  3. This is the first year I have seen my hosta bloom and I love all the flowers from the deep purple to the whitest of white. You see in the ten years I have lived here, every year the deer have eaten the flowers, so I’m delighted lol!

  4. I have at least four different kinds of hosta, including the dark green ones with purple flowers. The plants are huge and I love them.

    A friend from the garden club told me to spray a mixture of raw egg, dish soap and water on the leaves to keep the deer away. She also suggested putting egg shells around the plants. She claimed that deer don’t like chickens. I tried the egg shells and it seems to have worked, but I keep putting fresh ones out whenever I have them.

  5. The old plaintain lilies have that amazing honey-sweet smell – would love breeders to get hostas to send those stalks up all season long.

    PS Cardnals LOVE those seeds – let your flower dry and go to seed for them. Don’t rush to cut them off.

  6. I have late blooming, scented, H. Plantagiea and it is badly in need of dividing. I’d be happy to send you a piece from PA if you want it.

  7. I have a couple smaller hostas that I took from my dad’s in New Hampshire that have really pretty deep purple flowers. They’re very striking among all the green and brown of my little woodland garden. 🙂

    I have no idea what variety of hosta they are, though.

  8. I am generally in the camp of cut-off-those-tattered-flowers, except for the big “August lilies”, as plantaginea is called around here. They are fragrant, and I leave those to bloom as well as the tall purple ones which are very elegant, but most hosta flowers seem unnecessary to me.

    So glad to find that I am not alone in not liking them!

  9. I covet these hostas and their perfect purple flowers. Mine never look this lovely; they’re always an ugly grey/white or washed out lavender. I don’t fuss over them, though, and so they tend to dry out which probably contributes to their homely flowers and my “off with their heads!” attitude.

  10. Just this morning, two women stopped in the historic garden I’m restoring and asked about the deep purple hosta blooms. Since the visitors were from out-of-state, I gave them starts (for a donation to the plant fund) after warning them that now is not the best time to plant. Last spring someone drove 150 miles for a start of the “Henry Miller” hosta, after experiencing it last fall. She donated %50 for the old-fashioned hosta that reminded her of her grandmother. The demand is there, if only the breeders would respond.

  11. My purple flowered hosta looks like the one in you second picture. I’ve always liked the flowers. They’re just starting to bloom, and always add a nice spot of color to the beds.

    I also have lancifolia hosta planted in a wandering, serpentine line through a bed; they’re one of the last things to bloom in the fall. The flowers are airy looking, and I’ve gotten over my dislike of this really common (overused) hosta because of the flowers.

  12. I am with you…I cut the flowers before they even have a chance to bloom. But I have to say, one of the most beautiful garden sites I have ever seen was a kew gardens outside london, were about 9 years ago there was a woodland garden area that was planted with mostly hosta, and most of them with white flowers. It was the most beautiful patchwork of fresh green and white in a shade garden that I have ever seen. I have no idea what the cultivars were for that perfect mix…I often think it would be worth a trip (from Boston) just to find out.

  13. I enjoy our purple hosta flowers because they’ve multiplied into a huge bouquet of about 100 blooms or more. Now, I leave the seed pods on the stalks to attract the birds. It’s delightful to watch the goldfinches and chickadees swinging on the pods enjoying the food from the plant.

  14. I have a hosta that has purple flowers, too. I picked up by the side of the road. This week I kept looking at the buds because I wanted to keep my eye on it to label it so that I can divide it later but the deer beat me to it, though they did leave one bud. The leaves a different, heart-shape and shiny.
    The slugs have been very bad this year. I read of a cure to catch them by putting grapefruit and orange halves under the plants; they crawl in there and you can destroy them later. I haven’t tried it yet.
    Thanks for sharing your garden photos.

  15. Fragrant Bouquet smells. Nice foliage. Slug susceptable. Waiting for double flowering Venus to send up a stalk of bloom.
    I want some Blue Mouse Ears. Love that cute foliage.

  16. Hosta bloom hater here. I’m really sorry. 🙁 However, I will say the the blooms look much more attractive with the solid color foliage as a foil. Maybe that’s my issue. I have the type in your first photo and maybe it’s just too much competition. As a side note, I have always loved the hostas with the dark red stems. Need to find those somewhere.

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