Leopard plant is a herbaceous perennial and one of only two species in the Farfugium genus. It has yellow flowers and large leaves, hence the other common name, tractor seat plant. The species is native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan where it is found in warm and moist areas, such as along the coast, streams, and riverbeds. The golden flowers emerge in clusters (corymbs) from modified leaves (bracts).
The bloom time varies depending on climate. Warmer climates see blooms appear earlier in the summer. In cold-winter climates, the first blooms arrive in early August and provide color for late summer. The best time to plant is in the spring so the plant has the entire growing season to get established. Note that this plant is toxic to humans and animals.
|Common Names||Leopard plant, green leopard plant, tractor seat plant|
|Botanical Name||Farfugium japonicum|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||1-2 ft. tall, 1-2 ft. wide|
|Soil pH||Acidic, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||7-10 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
Leopard Plant Care
Leopard plants do best in partial to full shade and in organically rich soil that stays moist. They do not do well in full sun or when exposed to strong winds. The more sunlight they receive, the more water they'll need. Before planting, mix in some bone meal or peat moss to help retain moisture. When planting, bury the crowns at least 1/2 inch below soil level, and mulch around the plant to help keep the soil moist.
Aside from ensuring consistent moisture, these plants have minimal care requirements.
Leopard plant needs part to full shade. It is not a plant that can tolerate much direct sun, which causes the leaves to wilt and burn.
Leopard plant requires a rich, humus-heavy soil that is consistently moist, even wet. It tolerates a range of pH levels, from slightly acid to slightly alkaline.
These shade perennials get pretty thirsty, therefore they are good wet-area plants. In the absence of frequent rain, they need irrigation on an ongoing basis. Make sure to give them a deep soaking at least once a week.
Temperature and Humidity
To be grown outdoors year-round, the plant needs a warm, tropical climate. It does best in humid conditions. In dry weather, misting the leaves helps to increase humidity.
If planted in rich, humus-heavy soil, leopard plants don't require any feeding but they benefit from a thick layer of organic matter, applied in the spring.
Varieties of Leopard Plant
There are several varieties of the plant, including:
- Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum', a cultivar with heavily speckled green-yellow leaves
- Farfugium japonicum 'Crispatum' with grey-green leathery leaves that have crispy edges
- Farfugium japonicum 'Shishi Botan' with grey-green leaves that are heavily ruffled and crinkled, similar to parsley
- Farfugium japonicum var. giganteum (Giant leopard plant), reaching 3-4 feet in height and spreading 2-3 feet with large leaves
- Farfugium japonicum 'Wavy Gravy', a compact cultivar with a rounded growth habit
The plant does not require pruning. Deadheading is also unnecessary.
Propagating Leopard Plant
Leopard plant forms dense clumps that can be divided in the spring after new growth has started. Here's how:
- Using a shovel, lift the entire clump out of the soil.
- Divide it into segments using a sharp knife. Make sure that each segment shows some new growth.
- Replant the segments in a new, shady location with moist, rich soil, at the same depth as the original plant. Water it well and keep the soil evenly moist at all times.
How to Grow Leopard Plant From Seed
Leopard plant can be grown from seed although germination might be erratic.
Fill a seedling tray or pots with sterile potting mix and water it until evenly moist. Place the seeds on the surface and press them down lightly; do not cover them as they need light to germinate. Spray them with water and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Place the pots in an indoor location with bright indirect light. Germination can take up to six weeks.
When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted into larger pots or outdoors in late spring or early summer.
Potting and Repotting
Leopard plant is suitable to be grown in containers. A 12- to-16-inch pot works well for most cultivars. Terra cotta is ideal as it lets excess moisture evaporate and keeps the soil cooler than plastic pots. Make sure the container has adequate drainage holes and the potting medium also drains well.
As leopard plant prefers rich soil—and the frequent watering of container plants washes out nutrients—it needs more fertilizer than in garden soil. Fertilize it monthly with a slow-release balanced fertilizer, starting at the beginning of the growing season in the spring and until the late summer. Do not fertilize it during the winter when the plant goes dormant.
Repot the plant as needed when the roots start to outgrow the container.
Leopard plants are evergreen, although they will go dormant and die back if temperatures drop down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In the fall, cover the crowns with 3 inches or so of mulch, pulling it back as new growth begins in the spring.
If the plant is exposed to an extended hard freeze (below 28 degrees Fahrenheit), there is a chance it will die and need to be replanted again.
When grown in containers below USDA zone 7, leopard plant needs to be brought indoors for the winter. Place it in a location with bright indirect light. During dormancy, it needs less water but the soil should never fully dry out so water as needed.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Leopard plant is not prone to serious pests and diseases but slugs and snails are drawn to the leaves. If slugs are an issue in your yard, one of several methods to keep them at bay is to use diatomaceous earth.
How to Get Leopard Plant to Bloom
Failure to bloom might be too much nitrogen in the soil or too much sunlight. Leopard plant is one of the few blooming plants that thrive in shady conditions.
Common Problems With Leopard Plants
Too much sunlight, wilting, and burned leaves are typical signs that the plant is getting too much sunlight or too little water.
Why do I sometimes see leopard plants referred to as Ligularia tussilaginea or L. kaempferi?
Those are two Latin names by which the plant has been traditionally known. However, due to a name change, it is now botanically referred to as Farfugium japonicum, which is a nod to its origin in Japan.
Why doesn't my leopard plant have spotted leaves?
The common name of the plant, leopard plant, originated with the spotted foliage found on some of the native species, though this feature doesn't exist on most of the cultivated varieties.
Where should I place leopard plants in my garden?
What should I grow with leopard plants?
To create contrast in your landscape design, combine them with plants with fine, airy foliage, such as ferns. Since leopard plants are clump-formers, they can be planted en masse to function as edging plants in shady areas.