Liriope Plants: Popular Varieties of Border Grass

Ground Cover That Thinks It's an Ornamental Grass

Large patch of Liriope (in bloom) under trees.
Liriope spicata is a shade-tolerant ground cover. penboy/Getty Images

Liriope plants serve a number of practical functions in your landscaping. As flowering ground covers with attractive leaves, they also offer beauty. They do have one drawback, which you should keep in mind before deciding whether to grow them (and which type to grow).

Plant Taxonomy of Liriope Plants

The scientific names of the two varieties of liriope to research for your landscaping are:

  • Liriope spicata (named for the spiky form of its flower)
  • Liriope muscari (named after Muscari botryoides, the botanical name for grape hyacinth, whose flower formation is similar)

Often associated with these two is a third short plant with grass-like blades called Ophiopogon. All three of these ground covers are commonly referred to by the names "monkey grass," "border grass," and "lilyturf."

The genus name of Liriope is also often used virtually as a common name, with the first letter in lower case; where a distinction needs to be drawn between the different types, the species name is included. The genus name comes from the nymph who was the mother of Narcissus in Greek mythology.

Plant Type

Liriope plants are herbaceous to semi-evergreen (depending on location) perennials. They are treated as a type of ornamental grass, due to their blade-shaped leaves, even though they are not true grasses.

They have traditionally been considered members of the lily family, as the common name of "lilyturf" suggests. But, more recently, they have been placed in the asparagus family. This makes them distant relatives of:

Description of Liriope Plants, Variegated Types, Where They Grow

The blade-like leaves of Liriope spicata reach, at most, 1 foot in height. The species plant can be grown in USDA planting zones 4 to 10, although some of its cultivars are less hardy.

The species plant for Liriope muscari is half again as tall as Liriope spicata and a less aggressive spreader. Liriope muscari is also less hardy (only to USDA planting zone 6). But the two are more similar than dissimilar in terms of foliage (grassy), flowers, growth habit, and native origin (the Far East).

These are both clump-forming perennials, which further associates them with ornamental grasses in people's minds. Both Liriope spicata and Liriope muscari bear a spikey flower, ranging in color from white to blue to lavender, that yields to a dark berry in autumn.

Flowers and berries or not, they are valued primarily as outdoor foliage plants. Both Liriope spicata and Liriope muscari also come in variegated cultivars, including:

  • Liriope spicata Silver Dragon: 10 inches tall and 15 to 18 inches wide; silvery-white stripes line the edges, with green down the middle; zones 6 to 11
  • Liriope muscari Variegata: 1 to 1.5 inches tall, with a slightly greater spread; the green color in the middle of the leaves is bordered by stripes that are yellowish to off-white; zones 6 to 10

Sun and Soil Needs for Liriope Plants

Liriope plants can be grown in partial shade, although they also double as plants for full sun. They profit from water, but as long as you plant them in partial shade, they will tolerate relatively dry conditions. Either way, they need a well-drained soil.

But these ground covers are tough plants that spread quickly and easily, which accounts both for why they are loved and why they are hated.

Plant Care, Pest Problems

Liriope plant is a vigorous grower. Keep after it if you want to restrict it to one area. Set up bamboo barriers or bury landscape edging to contain it and/or dig it up if it spreads where you don't want it. If you wish to use this plant as a ground cover in multiple areas of your landscaping, you can divide and transplant.

Spring is the best season for dividing the plant. It is a deer-resistant ground cover. But you do have to watch for slugs on it and take action when you find them, as they will eat the plant.

Warning About Growing Liriope Plants

These ornamental grass look-alikes spread via rhizomes, to the point of being considered invasive plants in some regions. Indeed, one common name for them is "creeping lilyturf": When you see "creeping" in a plant's name, that's often a red flag that it spreads aggressively.

Uses in Landscape Design

Like many ground covers, three of the common uses for liriope plants are: