Members of the aster family can be described by a lot of wonderful adjectives, but “lush” and “tropical” are typically not among them. Yet that is the case with the giant leopard plant. Botanically speaking, I am referring to Farfugium japonicum “Giganteum.”
I find this superb, as one of my horticultural heroes Robert Fortune is credited with introducing it to England in 1856. He was the quintessential plant explorer. Savannah is a town rich in botanical history, ranging from plant explorers from the Trustees Garden of the 1730s that many consider to-be our country’s first experiment station, to the USDA Plant Introduction Station that is now the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens. Giant leopard plants in the historic squares will just add to the botanical lore.
If you are not familiar with the plant, you might think it is a dichondra on steroids, the result being a plant as large as a giant hosta. The difference however is the two- to three-foot clumps formed of round- to kidney-shaped,deep green glossy leaves. The leaves can be enormous, reaching close 12 to 15 inches wide. Technically speaking, it is a zone 7-10 plant, though it is not hard to find testimony from gardeners who have found success in micro climates in zone 6b. In colder areas you will treasure this plant in large containers moved to indoor winter protection. (Much of southern Idaho is classified as zone 7.)
It thrives in moist, fertile soil and doesn’t want to dry out much and every great leopard plant I have seen has been growing in shady to filtered-light locations. Any shady areas you have that tend to stay moist would probably be just about perfect for this plant.
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By now you are probably thinking, what about the aster family type flowers? In October and November, tall spikes seem to explode from the clump with clusters of yellow daisy-like blossoms, adding further pizzazz to your shady area. These spikes may range in height from 24 to 36 inches and will bring in an assortment of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
The leopard plant would add great contrast to an area where you might grow hostas, ferns, begonias and shady ornamental grasses. It will look stunning along a woodland trail, a meandering stream or a dry creek bed that stays moist. It is perfect at the edge of water gardens and looks picturesque grown in a garden with spring azaleas.