Its Blooms Stand Out in the Winter

Giganteum in UT Gardens, Knoxville
Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’, commonly known as Giant Leopard plant, is a beautiful addition to shade gardens, adding color in the gray of winter. Photo by A. Smith, courtesy UTIA. Download image.

UT Gardens’ December 2018 Plant of the Month: Giant Leopard

Submitted by Alexandria Smith, research specialist, UT Gardens, Knoxville

Looking to add something unique to your shade garden this year? Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’, commonly known as Giant Leopard plant or simply farfugium, is one of my favorite foliage plants in the gardens. This clump-forming perennial has glossy, leathery foliage that adds dramatic texture and gives a tropical feel to even the most lackluster spaces in a garden, and as a bonus it blooms in late fall when few other plants are in flower.   
Like the species, leaves are thick and are deep green in color, but as its name implies, Giganteum leaves are can grow up to 18 inches across. While other species of farfugium like full shade, this one does best with a few hours of dappled sun in well-drained moist soil. Farfugium will wilt during our extreme summer temperatures or in dry spells but thrives if sited correctly and is not allowed to go dry.  

Hardy to zone 7b or zone 7 with added winter protection. Foliage is semi-evergreen during mild winters but dies back to the ground once temperatures are around 20 degrees Fahrenheit with new foliage emerging in spring. With the mild winter in East Tennessee last year, our clumps in the Cornelia B. Holland Hosta Garden bloomed in December and foliage lasted until mid January. The daisy-like blooms are bright yellow and emerge on tall, leafless stalks and provide an unexpected burst of color in the gray of winter.
Farfugium is fairly low maintenance and does not have any serious disease or pest problems, but it is susceptible to foliar slug damage. Remove spent leaves throughout the season and cut off flower stalks when blooming is done. For best results planting should occur in spring for healthy establishment. Again, be sure and provide deep watering during hot summer months to keep farfugium looking lush.     

Farfugium is most effective if planted in mass, near ponds or streams, woodland gardens, perennial borders, or in containers. In shade gardens, the striking foliage provides a nice contrast with companion plants such as hostas, ferns, Japanese maples, columbine, and astilbe. Like hostas, you can’t have just one in your garden. 

In addition to Giganteum, other interesting cultivars include ‘Aureomaculata’ and ‘Crispatum’. Both are hardy from zones 7 to 10. Guaranteed to attract the eye, Aureomaculata also features deep green glossy foliage but sports bright yellow irregular spots. Crispatum is lighter green with striking ruffled margins. These cultivars and Giganteum will begin to satisfy a farfugium addiction that seems to begin whenever any gardener starts with one plant. While readily available in its native home of Japan, several cultivars have slowly made their way to North America over the last decade.  Visit your local nurseries or shop online for available selections. 
The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Jackson and Crossville. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information, see the Gardens website:​



Alexandria Smith, research specialist, UT Gardens, Knoxville, 865-974-7256