Liriope is an evergreen perennial that is native to East and South East Asia (1). Its popularity as a low flowering, grass like plant has seen it introduced to many other parts of the world. The misconception, confusion and mislabeling may be due to the fact that it is not a grass at all. It has been and continues to be extremely popular in Oriental medicine, and for this reason scientists are looking to translate some of these long held beliefs of the benefits of Liriope in to modern medicine, with diabetes of particular interest. (2) It remains a popular choice for home gardeners and landscapers and fits nicely in to many different styles of gardens.
Liriope are a versatile plant, popular for landscaping because of its evergreen foliage. With its clumping nature Liriope are often used in planting as borders, edges, containers, rock gardens, ground covers or due to its growth quality in filtered sun to full shade, as an understory planting. Flowers are induced in early to late Summer on an erect single-seeded spike. Commonly in the color of Lilac-purple, pink and white, they are a striking contrast to the green strappy leaves. Liriope are tolerant of heat, humidity and drought (3) and while requiring little maintenance can excel with a fresh bloom of flowers in the following season if old foliage is trimmed back at the time new foliage can be seen. Among the species, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families lists 46 species with only 7 of them being accepted names (1), an indication of much confusion for both the public and commercial growers.
Placed in the Asparagaceae family, and the Nolinoideae sub family (4). It is commonly called monkey grass or spider grass, yet it is not a true grass (family Poaceae). It is also referred to as Lilyturf but it is not a Lily (genus lillium) either, though it used to be classified in the Lilleaceae family. Likewise it has previously been placed in the Convallariaceae and the Ruscaceae family (5). Liriope is also often confused with the finer leafed Ophiopogon species (commonly called mondo grass) with the common names for both being interchanged with one another. With plants being sold under their old or inappropriate name, it can be understood how mistaken identity can occur. Among the more popular Liriope species cultivated is the Liriope muscari and the Liriope spicata. Where muscari is known for a more fibrous root system and flowers that extend above the leaves, spicata is more of a creeping plant, commonly called creeping lilyturf, with lower flower spikes.
Liriope platyphylla is another species to fall victim to mistaken identity as some gardens began using it as an adopted name to replace Liriope muscari. (6) The issue with this is that it is two different species (5) and yet even in scientific reporting and peer reviewed studies the two are confused. It is reported that Liriope graminifolia has an edible root which was cooked, candied and used medicinally however this article though cited with references, suggests that it could be mistaken for L. muscari. (7) Likewise a Korean study opens its report with “Liriope platyphylla is named Liriope muscari” and claims that it could contribute to the relief and prevention of several chronic diseases, including dementia, diabetes, obesity and atopic dermatitis. (8)
While confusion can be found, there is hope that some scientists are identifying the correct species to interpret the scientific utilities of Liriope and any translations from oriental medicine. Liriope platyphylla has been used in Korea and China to treat cough, neurogenetive diseases, obesity and diabetes (2). Whether it is by stimulating insulin secretion and suppressing fatty liver formation through the regulation of fatty acid oxidation (9) or through the regulation of calcium concentration (10) in rats, diabetes treatment is a possible candidate to benefit from Liriope.
On the purely aesthetic side, gardeners and landscapers continue to use Liriope in their garden because of its versatility and ability to blend in to many themed gardens. Because of its clumping nature it can be used as a border and accentuate straight edges or lines in a modern garden or it can balance a garden with a mass planting formal or informal. This is one reason plant tissue culture is of benefit. Uniformity is one reason to use plant tissue culture, but it is also used for mass propagation in a short time. Likewise, propagation via seed can see a lot of mutations or variances from the mother plant, and propagation via division of the mother plant limits the numbers achieved. Liriope can also blend well in to a cottage garden because of the display of flowers and the evergreen foliage and can also be just as well suited as a single feature or container plant.
Liriope is a plant that can be appreciated in many ways, though it has to be cautioned that the appreciation is being applied to the correct species or even genus. When all kinds of confusions can be made, even with scientists, Liriope needs to have its beauty recognized in its own rights, especially if it is a potential contributor in any way to the future of current health issues.