Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ – the name of this beauty is a bit of a tongue twister!
Perhaps not so strange then that this lovely plant has got more than the usual amount of common names; like Lilyturf, Black lilyturf, Black mondo, Black mondo grass, Black grass, Black Dragon, Ebony Knight, and Arabicus. Whatever you choose to call it, this is not a grass, and it is neither a lily, but is in the same family as Lily of the Valley. The black foliage is shiny and the plant is just as happy in the sun as in semi shade.
Ophiopogon planiscapus is a small but striking little plant, it is evergreen, looks lovely all year round, it doesn’t have any ‘messy period’, and although some leaves will die off over the years, you will hardly notice it. In the spring it gets the most amazing tiny flowers which are being replaced by totally black berries in the autumn. Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is clump-forming and spread with rhizomes. It grows painfully slowly the first few years after purchase, something which reflects the price you have to pay for a mature plant. But once they have got established they plump up nicely and you will have a good and steady supply of offspring that can be teased off the mother plant. You can also sow the seeds if you are a patient person. Don’t expect any germination until the following spring and growth will be…yep, painfully slow. But by all means, growing them from seed doesn’t require anything else than space for a seed tray and keeping it moist, and the tray can stay outside all year.
Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ looks great at the front of the borders and in containers where you really get to see them. They can be planted with other plants fairly the same height, try for example some low growing heucheras in different colours, or evergreen violas, or a succession of bulbs in between tufts of Ophiopogon. I have tried with different solutions and at the moment I have tulips – first some bright red early tulips which has gone a long time ago, and at the moment I have Tulipa ‘Angelique’ right in the middle of the 3 tufts of Ophiopogon I have in my garden.
I originally got 2 pots of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ in 2004 and I couldn’t make up my mind where to plant them – and with what to plant them together with, so they just stayed in the pots. After a few years they got a slightly bigger pot each. After another few years I divided the two pots so I got six plants, still couldn’t decide what to do with them and the plants were perfectly happy in their 1.5l pots. Finally, when I redesigned my garden in 2011, 3 of them got a space in the ground - and the other 3 ended up in my neighbours’ garden. Since then I have teased out quite a few babies and potted up, some of them are now quite big and some are still tiny. I haven’t grown any from seed, the birds around here seem to like the berries and pick them during the winter so I just leave them on.
As for growing conditions, this little plant seem to be very undemanding. I didn’t fertilise mine at all for many years, not until they were planted in the ground, and they still flowered every year. Now they get a dose of slow release fertiliser once a year in early spring and that’s it. I have mine in a semi shade position and that probably helps with keeping them moist. I have read that Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ doesn’t like to dry out so water them when the rest of the garden gets a splash, they don’t need any extra beyond that. And I think Ophiopogon is the only plant in my garden that has never had ANY pest or disease EVER. Even the vine weevils don’t eat them!
Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is readily available from nurseries and garden centres, it is a lovely, slow growing plant and if you want it to reach a certain size quickly you should probably splash out on a larger size rather than sit and wait for it to grow up – it takes a while!
P.S. If you do have time to wait, I have some babies for sale or swap, just get in touch :-)