Leopard plant is an evergreen, clump-forming perennial that is widely sought for use in landscapes and containers. This somewhat under-utilized plant offers both stunning foliage and bright yellow flowers in the fall. While not a new plant, it has undergone a botanical name change and a recent surge in demand.
Previously known by the Latin names Ligularia tussilaginea and Ligularia kaempferi, leopard plant is currently known as Farfugium japonicum. The round shiny leaves have also given rise to the common name “tractor seat plant”.
Native to the rocky coastal areas of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, Farfugium is generally hardy in zones 7-10. This Asteraceae, or sunflower family member, boasts shiny round foliage that is upstaged in fall or early winter when bright yellow flowers burst into bloom. Bees and butterflies pollinate the flowers, and the resulting seeds can be collected for sowing.
Farfugium prefers moist, rich soil but is not fussy about pH and grows best in partial sun to shade. Too much sun can wilt and burn leaves, so err on the shady side in our warm climate.
While it is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, Farfugium requires consistent moisture and will wilt if allowed to dry out. In my experience, deer don’t seem to bother this plant. In fact, insects or diseases problems are rare, with the occasional problem with slugs and snails.
Farfugium adds rich texture and deep glossy foliage to shady woodland gardens, boggy areas, pond banks, container gardens, and perennial borders. In small beds and containers, it is a great back of the border plant. In larger beds, it can be massed as a groundcover in front of ornamental shrubs and under the canopy of trees.
Ferns, hostas, columbines, astilbe, and other fine textured shade plants make excellent companion plants for Farfugium. Here is a look at a few cultivars with interesting features you might consider adding to your garden:
‘Argentea variegata’ is hardy through zones 8-11. This cultivar reaches 24 inches tall with leaves 6-10 inches across. Creamy variegated foliage is easy to incorporate into mixed borders and shade gardens giving them refined elegance. Although a slow grower, it is well worth the wait as the bright white spots act as tiny spotlights in shaded areas.
‘Aureomaculata’ is known for deep green glossy foliage with bright yellow spots, hence the name leopard plant. Some find this appealing while others think the plants look like bleach was spilled on the leaves. This plant is hardy in zones 7-12 and grows to 20 inches tall.
‘Giganteum’ creates a dramatic focal point plant for small spaces reaching 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. As it’s cultivar name implies, this is the largest of the Farfugium varieties available. The bold foliage is striking enough to hold its own in containers as a single specimen.
‘Last Dance’ is a hybrid of two Farfugium species that has leaves with sharp points and glossy foliage, rather than the smoothly lobed foliage of the other cultivars.
‘Bad Hair Day’ and ‘Crispatum’ both have fluffy, curled edges that give rise to the common name “parsley ligularia”. The edges of ‘Bad Hair Day’ are more angular while ‘Crispatum’ edges are more curved. Both are hardy from zones 7-10 and add a unique texture to the garden.
Divide this clumping perennial in spring, or sow the seeds in a cold frame or greenhouse in winter or early spring to increase your plants. The slow growing nature of this plant, combined with its popularity, means you might have to do a bit of legwork to find it, but it is worth the extra effort.