Blue Hostas

Blue Hostas

Our list of hostas changes frequently, so some of the varieties mentioned here may not always be available.  We realize it would be better if everything was always up to date, but it doesn't work that way around here.

Everybody loves blue hostas.  There aren't many plants that can give you this kind of color in the garden.  This one is 'Halcyon' one of my favorites, but there are blue hostas of  every size and shape to choose from, from little ones like 'Blue Mouse Ears' with leaves just 2-3" across, to giants like 'Blue Angel' which can form clumps up to 6' or more wide.

The first thing to know about blue hostas is that they're not really blue.  Not all the way through anyway.  The blue color actually comes from a waxy coating on the leaf.  As the season progresses, this coating can melt off in the heat of the summer, especially in the South, and can wash off in heavy rains or frequent overhead watering.  So generally, these plants are the bluest in the spring and as the season progresses, they will gradually lose the blue coating and will turn green. The color tends to be better and last longer in areas where the summers are not too hot.

There are three main groups of blue hostas; the sieboldiana types, the tardianas, and the tokudama types.  With all of the hybridizing being done now, there are varieties that don't fall neatly into place, but most blues will fall into one of these groups.



Probably the most familiar of these are the sieboldiana types. The most common is H. 'Elegans', (pictured at right) with huge rounded, corrugated leaves. Generally, most of the large leaved blue hostas are referred to as sieboldiana types, and most are derived from 'Elegans'.  Typically, they are large to very large plants, often with heavily textured leaves.  Generally they are slow growing, but given time, some of them can form mounds up to 6' across. 

The second group, the tardianas, originated in England when Eric Smith crossed an unusually late blooming plant of sieboldiana 'Elegans' with H. tardiflora.  'Elegans' normally blooms early in the summer and tardiflora blooms in the fall, so it may be that these two plants had never been crossed before.  And of all the crosses that hosta hybridizers have ever made, this is the one I wish I had made first.  From this single cross came some of the best blue hostas ever introduced.

Smith named four plants from this cross, and using these as parents, produced a second generation from which he named 27 plants, and a third, from which he named a single plant.  At first he gave each plant only an identifier that noted the generation and seedling number.  They were later all named, but you will often see Smith's identifier listed with the plant, as in H. 'Halcyon' (TF 1 x 7) indicating that it is seedling number 7 from the first generation. Other breeders have used these plants in their programs to produce a large number of terrific hostas that are often called tardiana types, but there are only 32 true tardianas, and only these have the "TF" designator.

And what's so great about them?  The color.  Not all of them, but several have the best blue color I've ever seen on a hosta.  Even when I see a plant that is touted as being "the bluest hosta yet", one or both of its parents is usually a tardiana.  Color varies from place to place and time to time, but for me, few hostas can compare to the powdery, baby blue leaves of 'Halcyon' when it first comes up in the spring.

The tardianas are mostly small to medium size plants.  A couple might be considered large plants, but none approach the size of the sieboldiana types. Some have the puckered leaves and cupping we see in the sieboldianas, but most do not.

  H. 'Tokudama' and its hybrids comprise the third group.  'Tokudama' was once considered a species, but it is now generally accepted that it is a hybrid, probably of sieboldiana lineage. Most exhibit the same rounded leaf form, with varying degrees of cupping and puckering, but are smaller than the sieboldiana types.  The tokudamas generally have good blue color and interesting leaf texture, but many are slow growing.  There are many tokudama hybrids available, and there are a few, especially the larger types like 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd', pictured here, and  'Love Pat', that are among my favorite blues.  In general though, I prefer the tardianas for their better color and faster growth.


And lastly, there are what I'll call miscellaneous types.  All of these probably have one of the above types in their background, but may be several generations away.  In many cases they have kept the blue color but not the other characteristics common to most of the three main groups.  'Fragrant Blue', at right, and 'Azure Snow' are two fairly well known plants that are not generally included among these groups.