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Ophiopogon planiscapus (lilyturf)

Lilyturf is a clump-forming perennial native to Japan, a dark-leaved cultivar of which is popular as an ornamental.
Ophiopogon planiscapus (lilyturf)

Ophiopogon planiscapus (lilyturf)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Ophiopogon planiscapus Nakai

Common name: 

lilyturf, mondo grass

Conservation status: 

Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.


Woods and thickets in lowlands and foothills.

Key Uses: 


Known hazards: 

None known.


Genus: Ophiopogon

About this species

Despite its grass-like leaves, lilyturf is actually a member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). The specific epithet planiscapus means ‘flattened scape’ and refers to the flattened flower-stalk of this species.

The cultivar Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (also known as black lilyturf, black grass or black mondo grass) has blackish leaves and is a popular ornamental. This small but striking plant is often grown against a contrasting light background such as gravel or silvery foliage.


Mondo planiscapum (Nakai) L.H.Bailey, Ophiopogon wallichianus var. leucanthus Makino, Ophiopogon planiscapus f. leucanthus (Makino) Okuyama


Discover more

Geography and distribution

Ophiopogon planiscapus is native to central and southern Japan.


Overview: An evergreen, clump-forming perennial with dense tufts of leaves growing from short rhizomes (underground stems).

Leaves: Grass-like, strap-shaped, deep green, 30–50 cm long and 4–6 mm wide.

Flowers: Small (6–7 mm long), nodding, bell-shaped, pale purple or white flowers are borne on 20–30 cm long, erect, flattened flower stalks (scapes) in summer.

Fruits: Round, fleshy, dull blue and 3–5 mm wide.

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’: This cultivar has arching, blackish leaves, 20–30 cm long and small, purplish flowers followed by glossy, blackish fruits.


Lilyturf is a useful plant for providing ground cover and is also planted for erosion control.

The cultivar Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is a popular ornamental that is grown for its dense tufts of blackish, grass-like leaves. The Royal Horticultural Society has given Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ its prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

This species at Kew

Lilyturf can be seen growing in the Winter Garden at Wakehurst.

Pressed and dried specimens of Ophiopogon planiscapus are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some other species of Ophiopogon, including some images, can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

Kew’s Olympic floral spectacular

Olympic rings floral display in front of Kew's Orangery.

From April to September 2012 a floral spectacular was in bloom in front of the Orangery at Kew Gardens to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic Games. This enormous representation of the Olympic rings could even be admired by air passengers flying over the Gardens.

The 50 m display included pelargoniums (Pelargonium ×hortorum ‘Horizon Red’), French marigolds (Tagetes patula ‘Atom Yellow’) and lobelias (Lobelia erinus ‘Cambridge Blue’). The black ring was created using black lilyturf (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) and the green ring was planted with apple mint (Mentha suaveolens).

The five interlaced rings designed in 1913 by the founder of the modern Olympic Games Baron Pierre de Coubertin represent the coming together of five continents to embrace the Olympic values: striving for excellence, demonstrating respect and celebrating friendship.

References and credits

Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1999). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, Volume 3 (L to Q). Macmillan Reference, London.

Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ohwi, J. (1965). Flora of Japan (in English). Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). Ophiopogon planiscapus. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 3 July 2012).

Kew Science Editor: Emma Tredwell
Kew contributors: Paul Wilkin
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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