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What is Liriope?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 August 2014
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Liriope is a genus of evergreen perennials which are often used as groundcovers or border plantings. Some of the species in this genus are invasive, so it is important to be aware of which species is being purchased, especially if Liriope is being installed in an area where a spreading invasive could threaten other plantings. This plant grows well in USDA zones six through 10, and can be found in some garden stores in regions in this zone. People who grow Liriope in their gardens may also be willing to provide starts, if asked politely.

A number of common names are used to refer to Liriope, including lilyturf, monkey grass, or spider grass. In fact, this plant is neither a lily nor a grass, although the leaves do look a lot like blades of grass. Liriope spicata produces white flowers, and spreads rapidly through the use of runners, while Liriope muscari has blue to purple flowers, and grows in clumps rather than with the assistance of runners. Both produce inedible berries in the fall.

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Liriope thrives in a variety of environments. In full sun, it grows readily and rapidly, but it also copes with shade, poor soil, damp conditions, and dry conditions. L. spicata is the species which most commonly tends to be invasive, since the runners will spread everywhere if given a chance. Especially in full sun, this plant can become a serious problem, even spreading runners under concrete and cement to seek out new territory. L. muscari grows a bit more slowly, but doesn't pose an invasive risk, making it preferable in many garden situations.

Several Liriope cultivars with unique traits like variegated leaves and brightly colored flowers have been developed for ornamental uses. One advantage to Liriope is that it is generally deer-resistant, which can be a big boon to gardeners who struggle with the local deer population. It is also a low maintenance plant, making it suitable for borders, large areas of ground which need to be covered, and hard to reach areas of the garden which might benefit from an evergreen cover that requires little to no work.

When gardeners work with L. spicata, planting one or two small starts is usually sufficient, because the plant will spread to fill the gaps. The species which does not propagate through runners needs to be planted more densely to create an even ground cover, as the clumps will spread slightly, but they will not creep out to fill in large spaces. This can be used to advantage when Liriope is being used as a border and gardeners want the plant to stay confined to a very specific space.

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