What hosta do I have? The dirty dozen...
For various reasons, people may find hostas in their garden for which they want to know the names. Maybe they bought the property and found the hostas, maybe they planted them years ago and forgot the names, maybe they were a gift from someone with plants to get rid of. Whatever the reason, I've found that a large percentage of unknown hostas can quickly be named from the following list. These are all "heirloom" hostas, available to American gardeners for decades.
If your hosta isn't shown or described here, post your question to one of the hosta forum sites (e.g. GardenWeb Hosta forum or Hallson's Garden Forums, or the American Hosta Society's Facebook page), and the mystery is usually solved quickly. Be prepared to describe leaf size and texture, bloom color and time, and even how many pairs of veins the leaf has.
And so: here are the most commonly found hostas that here-to-fore have been nameless. If you need more pictures to compare, clicking on underlined hosta names will open a new window at The Hosta Library.
At the bottom I list an additional two dozen hostas that have been available and popular for at least twenty years. Check these against the Hosta Library if your unknown isn't one of the Dirty Dozen.
Just added! A new essay discussing the Variations of the Undulata group.
The One with the White Edge: 'Undulata Albomarginata'
Similar in form to the plant above, with the opposite coloring. Same limp leaves (very tasty to slugs), same leafy bloom scapes (too tall for the plant), same pale lavender flowers (far apart on the scape, and with no seed pod formation). Also increases very quickly, and so frequently is used as an edging hosta. This one, in contrast to its cousin above, does not tend to turn all green (unless, curiously, it is grown in a pot). Compare also the description of white-edged plants below, and recognize that "green leaves with white edges" is one of the most prevalent types of variegation in hostas.
The Striped One: 'Undulata'
Formerly known as H. undulata 'Variegata' or simply (and incorrectly) Hosta Mediovariegata. White-centered leaves with wavy (undulating) green edges that grow in a mound less than 2' across. The leaves are fairly limp, and burn in too much sun. Pale lavender flowers early in the summer (June), with large leafy growths on the bloom scape (stalk) and blooms spaced over 1" apart. Does not make seed pods, but increases rapidly by making bigger clumps (and so is frequently given away). After blooming, the plant may make new leaves that are much more green than the spring leaves. Note that if you are growing "The Striped One," over time (years) the stripe may narrow to a form called 'Undulata Univittata' and then disappear to produce one of "the green ones," notable because the green form ('Undulata Erromena') is more vigorous and will look like a very different plant. Note also that there are some newer hostas on the market ('Fire and Ice,' 'White Christmas,' 'Night Before Christmas') that bear a resemblance to Undulata types, but these grow much more slowly and are not likely to be found as give-away or inherited plants.
The One with the Yellow Edge: 'Fortunei Aureomarginata'
The description is the same as the previous, but the edge is a nice golden yellow that does not turn white. A full-grown plant can be 4' across. This plant has also been sold as 'Gold Crown.' Very classic, for good reason. Another name for a similar, if not identical, plant is 'Ellerbroek'. This is the classic yellow-margined hosta, but now there are many, many more yellow-margined hostas available today. The reverse variegation (yellow centers, green edges) out of this genetic line is the very popular 'Gold Standard'.
The Other One (Dark Green) with the White Edge:
'Francee' or 'Fortunei Albomarginata'
There are a number of similar plants here. Fortunei Albomarginata is older but no longer very common in the trade; Francee is a choice selection and has been popular for quite a few years. Both have medium to dark green leaves (almost olive green) with a crisp white edge. A full-grown plant can be more than 3' across. The blooms are a darker lavender and arise later in the summer (July or later); there may be small leafy growths on the bloom scape. They can make seed pods, but generally not many. In Europe, this plant was also sold as 'Moerheim'; 'Silver Crown' and 'Green Gold' are similar if not identical. The well-known 'Patriot', also related, has a wider bright white margin.
The Green One that Grows Like a Fountain: 'Lancifolia'
Very common as an edging plant. Makes a mound to 2' across, with arching, lance-shaped leaves (10" x 2") that are spotted with reddish-brown on their stems (petioles). The flower scapes are tall, with rather pretty lavender blooms. Like Undulata, this one is sterile (no seed pods) and so increases by making bigger clumps.
The Dark Green One with Purple Flowers: H. ventricosa
This one also has shiny heart-shaped leaves that almost glitter. The flowers are a deep purple, and will make lots of seed pods. This hosta is easily spread by seed, so is the most likely choice if you find a hosta growing in your woods. Can also grow to 30" across or more.
The Green One with Fragrant Flowers: H. plantaginea and friends (hybrids) 'Royal Standard' and 'Honeybells'
Hosta plantaginea (also known as the August Lily) is the queen of the group, with glossy apple green heart-shaped leaves and huge white flowers. A mature clump can be more than 3' across. Royal Standard and Honeybells are similar, but the leaves are coarser, slightly more elongated and less glossy; and Honeybells' flowers are a pale lavender. They can be hard to tell apart; if you suspect you have one of these, compare yours with pictures in the HostaLibrary.
The Green One: 'Undulata Erromena'
See above description for 'Undulata,' which has a tendency to turn all green. That makes this sometimes a "surprise" hosta, showing up where there were green-and-white ones previously. The blooms are the same as other Undulata types; this blooming behavior will help to identify this one. Not nearly as shiny as the next three green ones listed below, and never shows a hint of blue as the final 'Hyacinthina' on this list.
The Blue One: 'Elegans' (or H. sieboldiana 'Elegans')
A large plant with rounded, heavily textured leaves with a waxy coating that makes the plant look blue. A mature plant could be 5' across, but 3-4' is more likely. The blooms are white or nearly so, but are often hidden among the leaves. If the plant is even bigger, the leaves are more pointed, and the flowers are borne in profusion above the mound of leaves, your plant is 'Blue Angel,' a close relative (in fact, 'Elegans' is sister to a number of similar cultivars, including Big Daddy, but is the oldest and still most popular). Oddly, Elegans's sister with a gold edge, 'Frances Williams', is one of the most-recognized hostas. If this doesn't match your blue one, look at 'Halcyon', a very popular blue hosta (and parent of the equally popular 'June'); 'Halcyon' is the dew-decorated blue leaf shown on many of these web pages.
The Other (Smaller) Green One, Kinda Blue: 'Fortunei Hyacinthina' (or just 'Hyacinthina'; note spelling)
There are a number of cultivars that have been available to gardeners for a number of years that could fall into this class, but Hyacinthina is a likely choice. Grows to about 2' across in a mound of pale to dark green heart-shaped leaves with a matte finish (sometimes showing what looks like a "hairline" white edge) and lavender flowers in July (similar to the other Fortunei types). 'Hyacinthina' is the parent (through sporting, or mutation) of 'Gold Standard', and thus the grand- and great-grandparent of many outstanding hostas, such as 'Striptease'.
Note: If you want to print this page, you might need to try more than one browser to get a reasonable result (or try first printing to PDF). We didn't know we had this problem on Wix.
The Rest: at least two dozen more hostas from at least two dozen years ago
These are not really specialty hostas, but ones that were available to discerning gardeners and landscapers years ago (registered or otherwise available before 1990). Check these against pictures in the Hosta Library.
Green ones: 'Candy Hearts', 'Invincible' (and note the fragrant cultivars above). Hosta species could be here, too, along with most of the seedlings you might find growing in your garden. Hybrid hosta cultivars do not come true from seed.
Blue ones: 'Blue Cadet', 'Hadspen Blue', 'Krossa Regal', 'Love Pat' (also 'Blue Angel' and 'Halcyon' under 'Elegans' above)
Gold ones: 'Gold Regal', 'Sun Power', 'Sum and Substance', 'Birchwood Parkys Gold', 'August Moon', 'Gold Drop'/'Gold Edger'
Yellow edges: H. montana 'Aureomarginata', 'Frances Williams', 'Yellow Splash Rim'
Cream/white edges: 'Wide Brim', 'Sagae' (originally "Fluctuans variegated"), 'Antioch', 'Regal Splendor', 'Shade Fanfare'
Yellow/cream/white centers: 'Gold Standard', 'Great Expectations', 'September Sun', 'June' (newer)
Fragrant ones: See fragrant ones above, plus cream-edged 'Fragrant Bouquet', its sport 'Guacamole', and a host of newer 'Guacamole' sports, many with names from Mexican cuisine. All of these are about the same size with the same flowers.
Little ones (small and miniature): 'Ginko Craig', 'Allan P. McConnell', 'Kabitan', the "Tiara" series, and the popular mini species H. venusta.
And one last source: Check out the Hostas of the Year, starting in 1996.