Easy-care liriope

In full sun or partial shade, the adaptable liriope survives in both the cold winter and hot summer. And the grasslike foliage with purple flowers adds beauty and interest to gardens. Liriope Muscari exiliflora, a member of the lily family, is probably the most popular liriope and is known by several common names: lily turf, grape hyacinth, muscari, and wonder plant. Various species of liriope are used as border, edging, and ground-cover plants.

An interesting feature of liriope is its far-flung range of growth. A native of southern Europe and southern Russia, it thrives in the dry grasslands of England, but is also found in its wild state in Texas and has naturalized itself in other areas of the United States as well.

Flat leaves grow from the base of the liriope plant, reaching a height of 8 to 12 inches. Tiny bell-like blossoms appear in summer and fall on rounded leafless spikes 5 to 6 inches long. Tightly clustered purple flowers resemble the grape hyacinth, hence one of the plant's common names.

Matured flowers produce small, shiny-black berries or fruit with seed. A clump of liriope makes a mass of fibrous roots and one or two small bulbs. Large colonies of the plant increase rapidly. If grown in full sunlight, the flowers will be more plentiful, while in the shade the leaves become a darker green. Either dry gravelly soil or moist rich soil is suitable.

Liriope requires little attention, grows in almost any soil, damp or dry, and has no pests or diseases. But since liriope multiplies rapidly, every four or five years the clumps should be divided and replanted.

Planting can be done any time when the ground is not frozen. If the tips of the leaves become slightly brown during a hot summer, I prune them early in the spring to add freshness to the growth.

Nurseries sell potted plants which can be separated for transplanting. Seed catalogs are a source for clumps. The Geo. W. Park Seed Company, PO Box 31, Greenwood, S.C. 29646, offers tufts called Muscari Majestic with deep lilac flowers.

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