Funky Genus


      Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Reginald Dwight, Gordon Sumner, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu and Norma Jeane Mortenson (Baker) all have achieved worldwide recognition. However, these five people are all better known by such names as Pele, Sir Elton John, Sting, Mother Teresa and Marilyn Monroe.  It seems that their born names were not as catchy, desirable or fitting. The same can be said for the genus Funkia. A genus pressing more than 70 species of lily-like plants and native to northeast Asia, Funkia seems to have been replaced by the more popular name Hosta. And while the rejected generic name is still found in some older literature and the occasional trade publication of perennials, Hosta has for the last quarter century been more popular.

Those of you who grew up in Union County in the early 1970’s, particularly those involved with the garden center industry, no doubt remember two sisters in Scotch Plains who supplied perennials to a large number of nurseries. The “Ditzel Sisters” are remembered today as two women who would greet you in the morning with pancake batter on their sleeves and sell “Jersey Grown” perennials later in the day. With a cleverly conceived, segmented, garden spade that was quartered, they could outwork nearly anyone as they would dig and market their plants. Ditzel Farm was across from today’s Union County Votech and is sited here because they marketed and sold hosta, only they called it Funkia.

The etymology of Funkia comes from the work of Heinrich Christian Funck, a German botanist and pharmacist (1771-1839). Displaced later by Austrian physician and botanist Nicolaus Host (1761-1834) the genus name, first and last, has honored the works of both men. The word “Funky” has had its share of negative connotations, thus its Hosta’s turn in the sunlight. Or is it?

While the name is basking in the limelight, Hosta much prefers the canopy cover of deciduous counterparts and coniferous friends. Protected from hot afternoon sun, Hosta is happiest in filtered light and survives admirably in shade. Herbaceous perennial plants, hosta grow from corms or rhizomes and have broad lanceolate or ovate leaves. Leaves that range in size from one inch to over a foot and equal in width. Though typically thought of as a green plant, hosta can surprise with some tantalizing variegated forms and glaucous waxy leaf textures. Generally an easy, long lived plant, relatively free of disease and requiring little maintenance, just water and the occasional plant food, hosta does have a few enemies. Deer, slugs and snails seem to enjoy these broad-leaved friends of ours almost as much as we do. However, as we are enticed visually by the kaleidoscope of colors they have to offer, these predators are bellying up for a culinary feast.

With some three thousand + named and registered varieties already and an almost equal number hoping to become registered, the possibilities are staggering for this herbaceous perennial group. ‘Guacamole’ is a newer, fragrant cultivar offering huge, shiny, chartreuse green leaves with a pronounced blue edge. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ has small gray-green leaves and a texture so thick you have to touch it to believe it’s not artificial. ‘Patriot’, a sport of ‘Francee’ has a dark green center with pronounced white outer markings which are sizably wider (1997 American Hosta Growers Hosta of the Year). ‘Frances Williams’ needs no introduction as it seems to be the most popular of the lot. Heavily corrugated foliage with blue-green and yellow margins keeps this at the top of my list. Finally, rounding out my short list of favorites is ‘Tattoo’. Introduced at the 1994 Atlanta Hosta Convention, this beauty has bright gold leaves, each tattooed with a green outline of a maple leaf in the center, topped off literally with lavender flowers in early summer.

As a proud, upstanding member of the Conifer Society it almost seems sacrilege to talk so prominently of the perennial kingdom. However, realizing that conifers can only be enhanced by the bold textures of deciduous ornamentals, annuals and perennials, I digress in the enjoyment that this genus is there to be enjoyed and showcase the kings of the plant world…Conifers.  And I suppose visa versa. Webster’s Dictionary defines “funky” as having an earthy style and feeling.  Apropos for the once named Funkia. Finally, there are a number of web sites supporting the genus. Those in particular are (The American Hosta Society), (for great Hosta pictures) and (British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society). Whether you call it Funkia, Hosta, Corfu Lily, Day Lily, Plantain Lily or the Japanese name Giboshi this genus offers enough variety to enhance any garden.