Liriope, often called lilyturf, is an ornamental plant growing 1 to 1 1/2 feet tall that is often used as a ground cover. It is popular for its toughness and ease of cultivation as well as its attractive, grass-like leaves and small spikes of white or violet flowers. Two species are commonly grown: L. spicata, also known as creeping lilyturf, and L. muscari, also known as big blue lilyturf and monkey grass.
Liriope forms grass-like clumps of narrow strap-shaped evergreen leaves to almost a half inch wide, with L. spicata being a bit shorter and having somewhat narrower leaves. The main difference between the two species is in the root system. L. spicata spreads quickly by rhizomes, which are underground stems that sprout both roots and leaves as they grow.
Liriope blooms in late summer or early fall. The white or lilac flowers are quite small, but many crowd together on short spikes, much like those of grape hyacinth (muscari.) These are followed by small blackish berries. While attractive, most lilyturf is grown for its leaves rather than for its flowers.
In the Wild
Liriope muscari is native to the forests of China, Korea and Japan, often growing in moist areas up to 6,000 feet in elevation. Liriope spicata is a native of China and Vietnam, growing in forests as well as more open areas such as grassy hillsides.
Lilyturf will take sun or shade, though more flowers are produced with some sun. It is best in partial shade. Once established, it is fairly drought tolerant and needs little fertilizer, but will not grow in soggy soils where water drains slowly. It does quite well in the Southeast United States, being tolerant of heat and high humidity. Liriope muscari is hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6, L. spicata to Zone 4.
Though it will grow from seed, Lilyturf is so easily propagated by division that it's hardly worth the trouble of coaxing along small seedlings. Both species may be dug up and pulled apart into small plantlets in fall or early spring. Liriope spicata, with its rhizomatous root system, spreads most quickly, even overrunning small plants, but may be divided into pieces often, eventually forming quite large colonies.
Landscaping with Liriope
Lilyturf makes an excellent edging for a shady border where its grass-like leaves can contrast with the fine texture of astilbe or ferns, or the bold leaves of hostas or acanthus. The flowers blend with most color schemes and it grows well in containers. With its low growth habit and narrow leaves, there are few situations where lilyturf would look out of place.