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Liriope — no matter how you pronounce it

By Staff | Jun 28, 2013

There is a song named, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” You say potato and I say poh-tah-to, you say tomato, and I say tow-maw-to, talking about the different ways to pronounce words. And, actually, what does it matter, as long as we know what we mean when we are talking. Unless it changes the meaning of the word, an accent here or an accent there, doesn’t matter; so why am I feeling cut through with a knife when I hear liriope mispronounced? (uptight?)

I was an English major and my father corrected my English all the time, making me sensitive to grammatical errors. Reason tells me it doesn’t affect communications if I know what the person means. (See, I had to go check the meanings of affect and effect.) But somehow, it manages to unnerve me. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, but it grates on my nerves.

I belong to several gardening and floral design groups, and have been running into the word, liriope. I’ve worked in a plant nursery and have always heard the word pronounced, luh-RYE-oh-pee. So here I go, Internet searching, and found lir-RYE-oh-pee, luh-Rye-oh-pee, la-RY-a-pee, LY-ro-pee, LEER-ee-ohp or as one person answered, “Well, horticulturists that sell liriope say, li-RI-o-pee is an expensive plant and leer-EE-ope is a cheap plant.” Either (or eye-ther), I know what plant they are talking about, and accept that or be ill mannered and correct them, (and one needs all the friends they can get.) Just realize there is more than one pronunciation and just shiver, Joyce. Another plant with multiple accents is kalenchoe, but that’s another story.

I was not familiar with liriope until I moved down here from the North. I saw all these clumps of variegated grassy leaves, and assumed they were spider plants like I had in my hanging baskets. So I planted some of my hanging babies in the ground here. They did nicely, but never really clumped. Eventually I learned the truth; those mounds I liked were mounds of liriope.

Liriope is commonly called one of the border grasses, but isn’t a true grass, (Poaceae family), and it may be called lilyturf, but is not a true lily, (genus Lilium). It is now placed in the Asparagacea family, subfamily Nolinoideae, formerly the Ruscaceae family. It was once classified with lilies in the family Liliaceae; it has also been placed in Convallariaceae. Anyway, the genus was named for Liriope in Greek mythology. Liriope was the goddess mother of Narcissus (who fell in love with his own image in the water and wasted away in unfulfilled yearning -Narcissistic complex.)

There are two main varieties of this cultivated groundcover, liriope muscari and liriope spicata. Both are grass-like semi-evergreen perennials, commonly called lilyturf, monkey grass, border grass or blue lilyturf. Although similar, muscari’s flower spike is taller and more pronounced, with wider and longer leaves, and the plant tends to stay put where planted. Muscari makes great edging or borders and spicata works well controlling erosion on hillsides. Liriope plants reach an average height of 12 to 18 inches, producing colorful violet, blue or white spiked flowers that appear in the summer. They are hardy, deer resistant, withstand dry conditions and grow in both sun and shade.

Mow or cut back in early spring to 3 inches, before new shoots appear. This is important for continued growth and to prevent anthracnose, a fungal disease. Don’t clip new shoots. They do appreciate a slightly moist soil, and transplant easily at any time of year. Their blue-black berries germinate easily anytime of the year, but taking divisions is an easier and quicker method of propagation. Just be careful to keep the crown above ground. Burying the crown kills the plant, and watering can carry soil into the crown. All growth starts at the crown. Ideal plants for zones 6-10.

There is a variegated muscari liriope that has silvery or gold streaks in the leaves and grows best in the shade. When planting, keep four inches between plants, it makes a colorful attractive border in your garden. All liriope muscari make a beautiful edging plant. It is such a pleasure to walk down a liriope bordered walk.

Liriope spicata will spread via rhizomes, and can be considered invasive. It is commonly called creeping lilyturf, creeping monkey grass or creeping border grass. Both kinds of liriope serve their own purpose.

Even with all the publicity going on about the Taste of Lee Fruit Festival, I want to remind one and all to go to the First Baptist Church of Fort Myers at 1735 Jackson St., downtown Fort Myers, Saturday, June 29, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The best sampling around. Familiarize yourself with all the available fruits to grow here, and if you already have some of them, bring your problems to the Master Gardeners Clinic.

There will be free 30-minute classes going all day. At 10 a.m., Anne Lieberman, local herbalist, will talk on herbs; at 10:45, Debbie Hughes, Master Gardener/Horticulture Specialist, will talk about making teas with roselle, lemon grass and edible roses. At 11:30, an IFAS regional fruit and tree specialist will discuss how to grow dooryard tropical fruit trees easily. At noon, there is the Carmen Miranda look-alike contest, and at 12:30 p.m., Celia Hill, Lee IFAS Family and Consumer Science Agent, will talk about canning, “So Easy to Preserve.” Robert Kluson, Sarasota IFAS Ag/Natural Resources Agent, lets you know all about Florida Native Edibles at 1:15.

Admission is $2, under 12 free, pay at the door. The Taste of Lee will be in the auditorium behind the church.

And don’t forget to thank a tree for our fresh air.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast, Federated Garden Club District IX Arbor Day Chairman and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.