But bold tropical foliage with cheerful yellow daisy-like blossoms seemed out of place in December. Lining and parallel to the front pedestrian sidewalk of one brick home is a dense row of leopard plants, Farfugium japonicum.
The hardy plant is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial with round glossy green undulated leathery leaves 6-10” wide standing upright on foot long stems.
In late summer through fall, the flowers bloom on 2’ tall branched stems. Daisy-like disc and ray flower structure is a key to the composite family even though the leaves look tropical rather than temperate.
According to University of Georgia horticulture professor Alan Armitage, site selection is of primary importance for success with the leopard plant. This native to wet areas in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan needs a location where roots can receive ample moisture continuously like around a pond, streambank or bog. None of the aforementioned is at its Shandon location, but a reliable irrigation system is in place.
The leopard plant likes living beneath a canopy as provided by the tree-lined shade of Shandon. It can tolerate morning sun but quickly wilts in noonday heat. The plant is a gardener’s irrigation meter since the leaves go limp before other plants do.
If planted in welldrained soil enriched with organic matter, the plant needs little fertilizer. Mulching contributes to moisture retention and can help prevent slugs (the only pest problem) from devouring leaves.
Leopard plant is easily propagated by division in spring. Seed propagation is possible, but seed is difficult to find in the United States.
The exceptional plant is being used as an alternative to hosta in borders, containers, and groundcovers in shady woodland perennial gardens in USDA hardiness zones 7-9. Roots can survive temperatures to 0°F, but foliage dies back at 20°F.
Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina sells a wide variety of leopard plants. Some leopard plant leaves have big yellow spots; others have wavy or lobed leaves.
So go ahead and defy December by designing with the dramatic evergreen foliage and late fall flowers of the leopard plant.