Kingdom: Plantae
  
Class: Angiospermae
     
Subclass: Monocotyledonae
        
Family: Hostaceae (formerly Liliaceae)
           
Genus: Hosta
              
Species: (see below)

Taxonomists (people who categorize and name living organisms such as plants) can go into dizzying detail in their arguments over what constitutes a species. However, for most of us, a simple definition is that the plant either currently exists in the wild or there is evidence (fossils, herbaria specimens, etc.) that it once did.

In his investigations, Schmid (1991) found such evidence for 43 species of hostas including the following:

In nature, variations occur within plant species that are not great enough to warrant naming an entire new species. These identifiable variations on the wild species are called varieties. Yes, this term is commonly also used, although incorrectly, to signify what is really a cultivar i.e. cultivated variety.

In addition to the 43 species listed above, Schmid (1991), also listed the following significant botanical varieties (naturally occurring) and forms of the genus Hosta:

H. clausa var. normalis

H. kikutii var. caput-avis

H. kikutii var. kikutii forma leuconata

H. kikutii var. polyneuron

H. longipes var. caduca

H. longipes forma hypoglauca

H. longipes var. latifolia

H. longipes forma sparsa

 
H. longipes forma viridipes
H. longipes var. vulgata

H. longissima var. longifolia

H. montana forma macrophylia

H. plantaginea var. japonica

H. sieboldii forma angustifolia

H. sieboldii forma okamii

H. sieboldii forma spathulata

Below are some brief descriptions of the various Hosta species highlighting the major features of each. The unique characteristics of each species are often the ones that are most valuable for use in hybridization. The information on each species was cobbled together using The Hosta Book by Paul Aden (1988), The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) and The New Encyclopedia of Hostas by Diana Grenfell and Michael Shadrack (2009) as primary references.

We also have a page that lists the species by mound size and what might be considered the "unique" characteristic(s) of each.

In the past, there were several types of hostas that were considered species that W. George Schmid in his 1991 monograph determined were actually cultivars. These are listed at the bottom of this page.

This species is similar to Hosta longipes but smaller forming a mound about 14-16 inches tall. It has a purple dotted leaf petiole and pale purple flowers with purple anthers. It is known for flowering very late into the season (September or October).

At one time, this was known as a botanical variety of Hosta longipes but The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991) designated it as a full species. He says that it is called "hosta of the equinox" i.e. flower buds are set about the time when the day and night are of equal length and was first collected from the wild in 1941 from rocky ledges and outcroppings.

This species of Hosta is generally found growing in marshes and bogs in parts of Japan. The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), did not find any of this species being cultivated in Western gardens.

Perhaps the most identifiable trait of this species is that the flower parts are a homogeneous light purple with no stripes and it has purple anthers.

The plants are about 16 inches tall and form a vase shaped clump. Pale purple flowers are borne on purple dotted pedicels and bloom in July. It is a natural triploid and is sterile, propagating by  rhizomes according to Schmid.

More on this species...

The Latin name alismifolia can be loosely translated as "Alisma-leaved". Alsima is a genus that contains several species including the one shown to the left, Alisma plantago-aquatica.

The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), says that this is called the "dark-flowered hosta" in Japan and occurs in moist woodlands and forest margins. "The flowers in this taxon have the darkest coloration in the genus with very dark purple lobes with even darker stripes."

According to The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009), this plant which is "...native to Hokkaido Island, Japan" is extremely rare. He says it is a "small mound of green foliage topped by deep purple flowers."

Similar species include Hosta rectifolia.

The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), says that  this is called "Fuji Hosta" and inhabits wet bottom lands in mountain valleys in its native Japan. "Morphologically midway between Hosta sieboldii and Hosta rectifolia, it has very long, winged petioles and beautiful, purple striped, bell shaped flowers. The species epithet comes from callianthus = with beautiful flowers."

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says, "...native to Honshu Island in Japan...medium-sized mound of green foliage with purple flowers from mid-August to September...similar to H. rohdeifolia..."

Found in Korea. Dark green with a sheen. Heart shaped leaves. Piecrust leaf margin. Clumped groups of purple flowers. Flat mound 10 inches high.

According to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), this species was first collected from the wild in 1916. He states the plants' "...large globular flower bud is dark violet just before opening, leading to its epithet, which is derived from capitatus = with a knoblike head or tip."

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This species is still a matter of disagreement among the "experts" of hostadom. The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) referred to the 1940 monograph on hostas by Fumio Maekawa and W. George Schmid's monograph from 1991. Zilis states, "Simply put, Maekawa's and Schmid's H. cathayana are the same as the most common hosta in American shade gardens - Hosta lancifolia."

According to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), "...the "autumn wind hosta" is often mistaken for the cultigen H. 'Lancifolia' because the only visible differences are the former's smaller, glossy leaves and shorter scapes, persistent bracts, and later flowering time ("blooms in the autumn wind")...originally from China as its species epithet indicates (cathaiana = from China)"

This Korean species which was first identified in 1930, is noted for its bright purple flower buds that do not open.  It is rhizomatous in nature and spreads well, forming mounds about 8 inches in height. The foliage is lance shaped, one inch wide and dark green with a sharp pointed tip. Flower scapes carry many buds and are purple dotted near the base.

"Growing along river banks it is exposed to periodic flooding brought about by typhoons during the time of flowering and seed maturation which severely disturbs normal sexual propagation resulting in evolutionary changes to a more efficient vegetative method by way of extensively creeping  rhizomes." according to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991). "The species epithet is derived from clausus = closed (bud)."

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Purple Ladyfingers'.

More on this species...

According to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), this species is called "the small hosta" and "The epithet intermedia used in the synonyms for this taxon indicates its taxonomic position between Hosta sieboldii and Hosta rectifolia although it is much closer to the former. It is seldom seen in gardens."

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) describes this species as "...native to Honshu Island, Japan...11" high...wide mound of narrow, green foliage...slightly shiny on top, whitish shiny on the underside...purple flowers...from late August to mid-Septembers...a little known species, even to avid collectors..."

Similar species include Hosta longissima.

This species is called the "thick leaved hosta" according to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991). "Morphology points to interspecific hybrid origin. It is rarely available and only a few specimens exist in scientific collections and herbaria."

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says, "...native to Mt. Ibuki in Japan and related to Hosta montana...large mound of thick substanced, green foliage...Throughout my travels in Japan, I never saw this plant and doubt that any Japanese collector I met knew about it."

According to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), this Japanese species is similar to Hosta kikutii with medium green foliage. The term densus pertains to the dense arrangement of flowers on the raceme. "A very pruinose, blue-grey plant cultivated in North America under the species name H. densa is not this species, which has medium green leaves without pruinosity."

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says that H. 'Density' that is found in a few American gardens although thought to be a sport of H. densa, is not actually related to it.

This is a large sized species (24 inches high) that emerges very early in the spring. It has a very upright, vase-shaped growth habit and gray green foliage with thick substance. The leaf base is  heart shaped and the tip is elongated and sharp. The flowers are near white.

The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), says that this species is known as "dark-leaved and wavy hosta" in its native Japan. The species epithet, fluctus means wavy.

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Sagae'.

Small plants. Shiny green. Lance shaped leaves. Mound 5 inches tall. Blunt leaf base. Purple, funnel shaped flowers in September.

The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), says that this species is known as the "small rock hosta" in its native Japan. The species epithet, gracilis means gracefully slender which refers to its long, slender flowers. H. gracillima is sometimes confused with Hosta venusta "...but the flowering scape of H. gracillima is smooth while that of Hosta venusta has ridges, and this difference can serve as a positive identifier."

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Medusa', H. 'Saishu Jima' and  H. 'Vera Verde'.

"White backed" leaves, The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991) says the name in Greek translates to "hypo = back, beneath and leucon = white color." Gray-green leaves. Long, pointed leaf. Medium mounds 12 inches high. Near white, purple suffused flowers in early summer. Native to Japan, where it has adapted to growing on cliffs and rock faces. The white underside of the leaves is thought to help reflect the heat from the rocks. Schmid points out that "In Japan it is often used in elevated pots to show the very white coating of the leaf underside or to provide an accent at the entrance to the garden."

More on this species...

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'A Many-splendored Thing', H. 'Band of Gold', H. 'Butternut Hill', H. 'Celestial', H. 'Glacier Cascade', H. 'Lakeside Lagoon', and H. 'Merry Sunshine'.

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says, "...native to Mt. Ibuki in Japan...closely related to Hosta lancifolia; probably a green-leaved form of Hosta sieboldii; listed by Schmid (1991, p.58) as the Ibuki Giboshi and closely related to Hosta sieboldii f. spathulata...small mound of green foliage with purple flowers from mid to late July in the wild..."

According to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), this species is native to several Korean islands. It forms a 13 inch high mound of shiny, medium green foliage.

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) reports, "Hosta jonesii is a recently identified Hosta species. Its merits in the garden or as a breeding plant are yet to be determined, but superficially it appears similar to Hosta tsushimensis. The species name honors Dr. Samuel B. Jones, botanist from the University of Georgia."

Slightly wavy, glossy leaves. Drought resistant. "Beak" like bract around flower buds. Lance shaped leaves with heart shaped base. Tapering drip droops at end of leaf. White flowers.

More on this species...

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Salute'

Elliptical, ovate leaves about 6 inches long by 3 inches wide. Chartreuse colored leaves with an elongated, sharp tip. A small plant (6 inches high) with white flowers that have purple anthers.

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According to The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), this species is native to several Korean islands and is closely related to Hosta yingeri. It forms a 12 inch high mound of narrow, wavy, shiny dark green foliage. Purple flowers with narrow petals appear in late August to September.

According to The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009), this species "...has only limited utility as a breeding plant, it still has great value as a fast growing landscape subject."

Slightly wavy, dark green leaves. Small plant. Elliptical leaves with heart shaped base. Mound 12 inches tall. Purple dots on petioles. Light purple suffused with white flowers. The name means "long feet" supposedly because in its native habitat in Japan, it sends its root deep into cracks of rock outcroppings.

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Grand Slam' and  H. 'One Man's Treasure'.

Strap shaped glossy green leaves. Flood tolerant. Blunt tip leaves. Mound 6 inches tall. Pale violet, funnel shaped flowers in late summer.

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Bitsy Gold', H. 'Manzo' and H. 'Purple Ladyfingers'.

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says that this native of Korea forms a small mound of medium green foliage. The leaves are ovate-shaped and smooth textured with the underside shiny and whitish. It has purple flowers in early to mid-July. It has ridged flower scapes.

Zilis states, "...true form is hard to find in nurseries, though many mislabeled plants (usually green-leaved Hosta sieboldii seedlings) are sold...Plants listed as Hosta minor "Korean" or H. minor "Gosan" usually represent the true form of this plant. Its ridged scapes are the key diagnostic trait."

Matte green "elongated heart" shaped leaves. Incised leaf base. Emerge early in spring. Mound 30 inches tall. Many near white trumpet shaped flowers in early summer.

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Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Alice Gladdin', H. 'Aureomarginata', H. 'Big Boy', H. 'Candlewood', H. 'Chirifu', H. 'Crispula', H. 'Ebb Tide', H. 'Frosted Jade', H. 'King Michael', H. 'Mountain Sunrise',, H. 'On Stage', H. 'Peppermint Ice', H. 'Straka Gold' and  H. 'Summer Snow'

Heart shaped, wavy, dark green leaves. Mound 6 inches tall. Petioles with some purple dots near base. Bunched pale purple flowers. The name means "ornamental hair-piece" because the flowers resemble a traditional hairpin worn by Japanese women.

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Slightly wavy, oval, leathery, gray green foliage. Mound 20 inches tall.  Very tall flower scapes. Large, near white, funnel shaped flowers.

Seedlings or sports of this species include Hosta nigrescens 'Elatior'

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The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says that this plant is "...native to Japan; related to Hosta rupifraga...small mound of medium green leaves...petioles reddish...very shiny leaf underside."

Similar species include Hosta aequinoctiiantha and Hosta longipes.

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says, "...native to Honshu Island, Japan...22" high...slightly shiny, medium green foliage...very shiny underside...pale lavender flowers...early to late August...This is one of the lesser known Hosta species."

More on this species...

Similar species include H. kiyosumiensis.

This species originated in China and forms a large (24 inches high) mound of glossy, light green foliage with very fragrant flowers. The leaves are about 10 inches long and 7 inches wide which are heart shaped at the base.

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Seedlings or sports of this species include Hosta plantaginea 'Aphrodite'.

This rhizomatous species forms a very small (1.5 inches high) mound of green leaves with lavender flowers in July.

Noted for extreme "pie-crusting" of their leaf margins, plants in this species form a 12 inch high mound. Another feature is the white coloration on the bottom of the leaves. Dark purple flowers are borne in August.

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The blue-green, glaucous leaves of this species have an erect form. The 15 inch high mound supports stout petioles with light purple flowers in July. The flowers have short green bracts with purple stripes in the middle of the petals.

Lance like or oblong leaves 10-12 inches long by 3 inches wide. Lavender, funnel shaped flowers in July.

This species grows on rocky mountain sides in its native lands. The leaves are leathery, shiny, waxy and somewhat twisted with sharp tips. The 10 inch high mound bears petioles with splashes of purple and dense groupings of lavender flowers in the fall.

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The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says, "...native to Shikoku Island in Japan...small mound of green foliage...dull on top, very shiny on the underside...medium purple flowers...open in late June...scapes red-dotted."

This species varies widely in nature but generally has round leaves that are seer suckered. Most are blue-green in color in the spring and fades to green as the season progresses. These are large plants with mature mounds about 30 inches in height. The flower scapes barely rise above the leaves and bear thick clusters of white flowers in July.

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Similar cultivars include H. 'Cucullata'.

This species of small (12 inches high) plants is found in wet soils in their native lands. Plants have wavy, shiny leaves about an inch wide and 4 or 5 inches long. The top of the leaf is a matte, dark green while the bottom is shiny and lighter green. Leafy bracts appear along the stem and near white flowers are borne in August. The flowers have dark purple veins in the petals.

The species was named for plant explorer, Phillip von Siebold.

This species is very similar to the former species,  H. 'Lancifolia" but it has yellow anthers where 'Lancifolia' has purple colored anthers.

Seedlings or sports of this species include Hosta sieboldii 'Kabitan'.

The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009) says, "...from Mt. Ibuki in central Honshu Island in Japan...15" high...mound of shiny, green foliage...ovate-shaped and very shiny on the underside...slight purple-red dots on the petiole base; purple flowers emerge from dark purple buds in August."

Similar species include Hosta tardiva.

According to The Hostapedia by Mark Zilis (2009),  "...native to Kyoto Island, Japan...smooth, shiny green foliage in a 12 " high mound with white to pale purple flowers in September...This is an extremely rare species..."

Similar species include Hosta aequinoctiiantha and Hosta longipes.

This species has heart shaped green leaves that form a 9 inch high mound. It bears large but not numerous violet flowers with purple anthers in September.

Before Schmid 1991, renamed it, this species was named Hosta chibai. It forms a dome shaped mound about 14 inches high with oblong, heart shaped green leaves. It is noted for having flower scapes that branch from the main stem and bear many, many lilac colored flowers.

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Imp'.

Similar species include H. capitata.

This species is often found in dry areas in the wild and varies widely in nature. It has spear shaped leaves with flowers that vary in color between the outside and inside of the bloom. The anthers are sometimes purple dotted.

Plants in this species form large (24 inches high) mounds of slightly wavy, heart shaped, pointed leaves. The bottom of the dark green leaves tends to be shiny. The flower scapes may have faint red on them and bear a single bract about half way up. Many bell shaped, lavender  flowers open in July.

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Originally from Korea, this species has slightly wavy, green heart shaped leaves which are pinched at the squarish base. It is a small plant, forming a 4 inch tall mound. The lavender flowers with darker veins appear in late June to July.

The Genus Hosta by G. Schmid (1991), says that this species is known as the "(beautiful) maiden hosta" in its native Korea.  H. gracillima is sometimes confused with Hosta venusta "...but the flowering scape of H. gracillima is smooth while that of Hosta venusta has ridges, and this difference can serve as a positive identifier."

More on this species...

Seedlings or sport of this species include H. 'Imp'.

This species was named for horticulturist, Barry Yinger after he identified it in 1985. It is native to the coast of Korea and forms a small mound of shiny leaves with thick substance. It has purple flowers that appear in September.

Seedlings or sports of this species include H. 'Potomac Pride' and H. 'Sweet Tater Pie'.

Plants that Schmid (1991) switched from species to cultivar status included:

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