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What is Ophiopogon?

By Terrie Brockmann
Updated May 17, 2024
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In the plant kingdom, the genus Ophiopogon belongs to the family Liliaceae, or the lily family. There are approximately 50 species in the genus, and most of them are perennial evergreens that usually bear dense spikes of lily-like or bell-shaped flowers on stiff, upright stems. Formerly, botanists grouped them as Mondo, and that genus name is in some literature, especially older books. Depending on the species, the plants may range from about 2 feet (about 61 cm) tall down to a few inches (about 5 cm) tall, and some cultivars are small enough that gardeners use them to fill the spaces between paving stones in walkways.

Gardeners and landscapers use varieties of the Ophiopogon plants as green turf or edging plants in subtropical regions, such as southern California. The sod-forming root system and grass-like foliage lends itself to this type of planting and aids in erosion control. It grows well in sun or shade, and growers propagate it by root division. People seldom raise it as a houseplant, but often gardeners plant it in rock gardens and in gardens as specimen plants. Where it is not hardy, gardeners grow it as an annual.

The O. planiscapus plant is one of the shorter species at about 6 inches (about 15 cm) in height and width. Generally, growers raise it for its dark purple, almost black leaves. Like many Ophiopogon plants, the fruit usually is glossy, blue-violet, and ellipsoid. As it is not hardy in colder climates, gardeners often treat it as an annual in those climates. Other species and cultivars have striped leaves with long stripes of yellow, cream, and various shades of green, depending on the plant's breeding.

Snake's beard, or O. japonicus, is a dwarf Ophiopogon plant from parts of China, Japan, and Korea. Underground tuberous roots spread from the plant, which is typically 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) tall, though some cultivars may be as short as 4 inches (about 10 cm) tall. It often has grass-like foliage that is a darker green than most plants in this genus. The small, bell-shaped white flowers grow on short racemes. Some growers call it Mondo grass, and it is similar to O. jaburan, but usually smaller.

The O. jaburan, or white lily turf, is native to parts of Japan, and like most Ophiopogon plants, it has leathery, dark green leaves. In this species, they are sometimes variegated and often measure 2 feet (about 61 cm) or more in height. Generally, white lily turf is a tall, tufted, and stoloniferous perennial, measuring an average of 2 feet (about 61 cm) tall. The droopy, lily-shaped flowers grow in a spike-shaped raceme that usually is between 3 to 6 inches (about 8 to 15 cm) long at the terminal end of a 6 to 18 inch (about 15 to 46 cm) long, leafless stalk, contingent on the cultivar. Typically, the flowers are white to pale purple, but some cultivars have deep purple flowers.

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