What’s In A Name? Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' (2)

Ophiopogon in my gravel front garden

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, also known as black lilyturf, black mondo or black dragon, is an evergreen perennial native to Japan. Despite having a grass-like appearance, it is a member of the Asparagacaea family, as is the similar grass-like Liriope muscari. ‘Ophiopogon’ comes from the Greek ‘ophis’ meaning ‘serpent’ and ‘pogon’ meaning ‘beard’. The name presumably alludes to the linear leaves being the beard of the snake or dragon. ‘Planiscapus’ refers to the flattened scape or flower-stalk ending in a loose raceme of lilac flowers and ‘Nigrescens’ to the black colour of the foliage and scapes. In summer, after the flowers fade, blue to deep purple berries develop leading to the French name ‘Herbe aux Turquoises’ also referred to as the ‘barbe de serpent noire’.

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ can be a tricky plant to use in a garden situation. Its deep purple/black foliage when used sparingly or dotted through planting can look straggly and disappear into the undergrowth. At its best, en masse, it is an attractive groundcover plant adding a deep saturation of colour to a design and setting off brighter, lighter colours well. It makes a pairing with plants with silver foliage like Stachys byzantina or, in my garden, Lychnis coronaria and Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tormentosum) and looks stunning alongside plants with orange foliage such as Libertia peregrinans and Carex testacea.


Used as an edging plant in Regent’s Park

Ophiopogon also works well in erosion control, binding soil with its rhizomatous roots, and it thrives in containers. I’ve used it successfully in pots with dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) and white violas as a winter combination and last year I underplanted my French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) with ophiopogon, then dog violets also colonised the pot. A rather random combination, but the silver and black foliage alongside the purple flowers looked attractive and the ophiopogon is increasing, a sure sign that it’s happy in its environment.

Containers with ophiopogon in my garden in autumn, spring and summer

Ophiopogon prefers full sun to partial shade, moist but well-drained soil and likes neutral to acid soil (but it seems to do fine in my alkaline front garden). So whether you want some foliage interest in a container or larger scale groundcover impact, the black serpent’s beard with flattened scapes is a good way to add some lustre to your garden this year.

More images of ophiopogon in Regent’s Park border designs

14 thoughts on “What’s In A Name? Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

  1. debsrandomwritings says:

    Hi Nic, the black serpent’s beard does look nice when used en masse. The dark colour sort of forms a frame around the main part of a display, which I think is very pleasing to the eye.

    Thank you for linking up with the #MMBC.


  2. Steve Yandall says:

    Hi. I raised Oph.Black Beard- a more vigorous and larger growing subject but,in the process(spanning 35 years,)trialled mondo grass in many situations. Gardening has many myths and I would suggest trying mondo in shade and dry positions as I have succeeded in both whilst retaining full colour. Please,also remember the scent! As an accompaniment to hardy white cyclamen,an edging /underplanding for gold deciduous shrubs or to create false shade in landscaping–unsurpassed.

    • dogwooddays says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience with Ophiopogon, Steve. Good point about the scent – not something I’ve noticed as I’ve gardened with it, but I’ll keep my nose alert next time it flowers. It is a beautiful, charismatic plant!

  3. Steve Yandall says:

    Clones vary in the strength of scent they emit. I have many different seedlings and have selected those with a more noticeable perfume ,including Blackbeard. I have them planted in a raised bed to bring the scent to nose height! Another particularly good combination is Parahebe perfoliata with Ophiopogon under and edging Rosa Buff Beauty or Penelope!

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