Forming tufts of grasslike leaves, these popular, tough-as-nails ground covers from Asia are known by a number of namesbut to most Southerners, they're plain old monkey grass. One species grows in clumps; the other spreads aggressively. Summer flowers, often quite showy, appear atop the foliage in spikes or branching clusters and come in lavender, blue, pink, purple, or white.
In addition to their use as a ground cover, these plants make excellent edgings for walks and planting beds. They're good beneath large trees, as they tolerate the shallow soil between surface roots. They also make nice additions to containers and mixed plantings. They generally prefer filtered sun to full shade, although some selections do well in full sun. Good drainage is important; regular fertilizing isn't necessary. To get more plants, divide in early spring, using a sharp spade to cut through the clumps. Deer don't usually eat the foliage.
Liriope's close cousin, Ophiopogon japonicus, is also called monkey grass. It has many of the same uses but is less cold hardy. See page 460.
L. muscari. BIG BLUE LIRIOPE, BIG BLUE LILY TURF. Forms large clumps 12 ft. tall and eventually a bit widerbut does not spread by underground stems. Loose growth habit, with arching, typically dark green leaves to 2 ft. or longer, in. wide. Dense, spikelike, 6- to 8-in. blossom clusters reminiscent of grape hyacinth (Muscari) appear on 5- to 12-in. stems. Blooms are held above the foliage on young plants, partly hidden by leaves on older ones. Round, shiny black fruit follows flowers.
'Big Blue'. Stiffly arching plant to 1215 in. high. Narrow leaves, dark violet flowers. Does well even in dry shade.
'Cleopatra'. To 15 in. tall, with slightly twisted leaves. Very showy dark purple flowers.
'Evergreen Giant'. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. To 2 ft. tall, with straplike leaves and lavender flowers. Evergreen plant, best used as edging or border.
'John Burch'. To 1215 in. high. Broad, yellow-green leaves with wide green edging. Heavy flower spikes like lavender cockscombs stand well above the foliage. Performs best in full sun.
'Lilac Beauty'. Grows 1215 in. tall. Pale violet flowers.
'Majestic' (M. exiliflora). To 1518 in. high. Somewhat open clumps. Blooms heavily, bearing large (up to 10-in.-long) clusters of dark violet blossoms resembling cockscombs; flowers are held above the leaves. 'Royal Purple' and 'Webster Wideleaf' are similar.
'Mark Anthony'. To 16 in. high. New growth variegated golden yellow and green, turning white and as it matures. Pinkish lavender blooms.
'Monroe White'. To 1215 in. high, with broad leaves and large white flower spikes that stand well above the foliage. Fruit is purple. Prefers more shade than most types.
'Pee Dee Ingot'. Grows 1012 in. tall. Yellow young growth matures to gold or chartreuse. Lavender blooms.
'Samantha'. Grows 1215 in. tall. Narrow leaves; pink blooms.
'Silvery Sunproof'. Open, strong growth to 1215 in. high. Medium green foliage has gold stripes that age to white; whole leaf is whiter in sun, yellower or greener in shade. Lilac flowers are held well above foliage. One of the best for full sun and for flowers.
'Variegata'. To 1015 in. high. Forms loose, soft clumps. Leaves are green with yellow edges when new, then turn solid dark green in second season. Violet flowers are held well above the leaves. May be sold as Ophiopogon jaburan 'Variegatus'.
L. spicata. CREEPING LIRIOPE, CREEPING LILY TURF. Dense ground cover that spreads widely by underground stems; can be invasive. Grows 89 in. high. Deep green, grasslike leaves are only in. wide. Foliage is not as upright as that of L. muscari. Pale lilac to white flowers appear in spikelike clusters barely taller than the leaves. Set plants 1 ft. apart for quick cover. For best effect, mow yearly in early spring, before new growth emerges. 'Silver Dragon' has a somewhat sparser habit, leaves striped in silvery white, and pale purple flowers held on short spikes. Fine ground cover for shade; slower growing than species.