Hostas are colorful perennials known for their leaf variations. They are used as borders along formal garden paths and in shady beds under trees. The leaf variations from chartreuse to emerald green often are variegated and add splendor to manicured gardens worldwide. Hosta flowers are exotic tubular shapes in white, lavender, and dark purple.
Hosta or Funkia originated in East Asia and is known as plantain lilies. The exotic plant was naturalized in Japan, known as gibōshi, and grows wild on Mount Kiyosumi-Yama above Tokyo bay. Hosta is a favorite in Japanese shade gardens, and at least 40 hybrid herbaceous varietals are known worldwide.
Hosta is of the asparagus (Asparagaceae) and the lily (Liliaceae) plant families. The herbaceous plant attracts garden enthusiasts’ attention because of its exquisite leaf beauty and contrasting spring to mid-summer flowers. Stepping out into a garden with Hosta focal areas is a mesmerizing experience as these plants form dense edgings of varying heights, and the leaf variations stand out.
Avid gardeners often are left guessing about look-alike plants that masquerade as Hostas. The leaves, flowers, heights, and propagation of these plants overlap, and Hosta companion plants often take their place.
Related: Are Hostas Poisonous?
1. Wild Ginger
Wild ginger is a ginger-scented perennial herb that grows in Californian forests and roots deep into the ground. The leaves are easily mistaken for that of the Hosta. Like the Hosta, the wild ginger plant grows into a clump with rounded and heart-shaped leaves. The wild ginger’s leaves also have tiny white veins that follow the leaves’ lines.
The Hosta leaves differ from wild ginger. Hosta leaves are smooth, and wild ginger leaves are hairy. Also, wild ginger has a distinctive aroma set off when rubbed. The ginger fragrance is a giveaway.
Both Hosta and wild ginger grow from rhizomes which makes their propagation similar. The Asarum wild ginger varietal comes from Asia and is common in North America, China, Japan, and Vietnam. Wild ginger is a prized woodland ground cover in California – a fragrant evergreen carpet with similar deep green and heart-shaped leaves.
2. Variegated Liriope
Like Hostas, the hardy variegated Liriope likes the shade. The Liriope is a grass-like plant species named lilyturf in the Americas, yet it’s not grass. Liriope originates from Asia, and there are similarities between Liriope and Hosta. Both are plant species classified in the family Asparagaceae. And Liriope, like Hosta, is also ranked with lilies in the family Liliaceae.
Liriope is known for its evergreen foliage and is planted as a groundcover nicknamed creeping lilyturf. Liriope is an attractive look-alike of the Hosta plant and produces spikes of tiny violet-blue flowers. The leaf variegation is distinctive, too, with tones of gold to silver coloring when grown in the shade. Hosta has funnel- or bell-shaped purple or white flowers.
Hosta and variegated Liriope are easy to grow. The plants are similar from a horticulture perspective. Like Hosta, variegated Liriope spread quickly. Liriope, like Hosta, are planted along the edges of a garden and are suitable for borders and along paths. Liriope grows well in the shade under trees, as does Hosta.
The leaves of Hosta and Liriope differ significantly. Still, the variegation in both is a common feature, and so is their common genus origin. Liriope is a hardy plant and, when clumped with Hosta, puts on a uniform display. The look of Liriope is similar to that of Hostas. Liriope is a good Hosta companion plant. It is precisely the variegated Liriope (Liriope Muscari variegate).
3. Abiqua Elephant Ears
The plantain lily Abiqua Elephant Ears belongs to the genus in the family Asparagaceae to which the Hosta belongs. Though we commonly associate the Hosta with an herbaceous border, planted underneath a sizeable shady tree or in a garden pot, the large Elephant Ears perennial is seldom considered a relative. But looking closely, one sees the resemblance.
The size of giant-sized Elephant Ears is about 32 inches high and at least 60 inches wide. The leaves resemble those of the Hosta. The Elephant Ear has green leaves with a blue tinge, like some Hosta varietals. The giant leaves are heart-shaped with deep veins, and the pale flowers are visible in summer, much like some Hosta varietals.
Hosta form clumps and show off their simple or variegated leaves that are oval or egg-shaped (ovate). Abiqua elephant ears have slight corrugation and veins similar to Hosta and are also egg-shaped. Of course, as much as the Hosta makes a collective display, the Elephant Ears stand out as a single plant and are planted as architectural accents.
The range of colors for Hosta leaves is colored and variegated. The Hosta also produces downward-growing (nodding) flowers; some are funnel, and others are bell-shaped. The flowers on elephant ears are pale lavender.
Related: Are Elephant Ears Poisonous?
4. ‘Jack Frost’ Large-leaf Brunnera
A close look-alike to Hostas is the large-leaf Brunnera. The plant is also known as ‘Jack Frost,’ and it’s easy for most gardeners to mistake the Brunnera for a Hosta. Brunnera has heart-shaped leaves, which make this plant’s foliage similar to the Hosta. But there are differences despite these two plant types often being considered alike.
Hosta leaves come in colors from green to chartreuse yellow, and some have blue overtones. The markings on the leaves have defined edgings, and often the centers of the leaves are white, off-white, and even cream. Hosta leaves are smooth to the touch, and you can see the veins clearly.
Some Hosta leaves are ribbed or puckered, and these grow from the base cluster of the Hosta plant. Hosta leaves are large and up to 18 long and 12 inches wide.
Brunnera macrophylla is large-leafed, and like the Hosta, the Brunnera is a hardy perennial that grows from rhizomes. The flowers of the Brunnera are pale blue and more like that of a forget-me-not. The Hostas have lily-like flowers that are bell or funnel-shaped. These botanical features often make it possible to tell these apart when flowering, as both plants have ovate leaves.
The Hosta leaves can be close to 18 inches long, matching the Brunnera. Though the size and the shape of the Hosta and the Brunnera leaves can appear similar, the texture differs. The Brunnera leaves are rougher with a hairy surface. You can also tell the Brunnera by white markings on the heart-shaped leaves.
The ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera can be used as an alternative to the Hosta and clumped together in a shady garden. Brunnera is commonly planted alongside Hosta. Brunnera, like Hosta, quickly propagates by dividing these plants at the root.
5. Polygonatum / Variegated Solomon’s Seal
Polygonatum or King Solomon’s Seal is a flowering plant of the same family as the Hosta genus, Asparagaceae. Though the herbaceous plants show little resemblance at first glance, both produce drooping lily-like flowers. The Hostas and Solomon’s Seal are of the lily variety, Liliaceae.
Hostas and Solomon’s Seal also are shade growers. And many horticulturists suggest that the varietal Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is a substitute for the upright Hostas precisely because of their distinctive green-and-white foliage.
This plant variety propagates in the same rhizome fashion as the Hosta and its name Polygonatum refers to the Greek for ‘many knees’ that reflect on the nature of the propagation.
There are variations in both these plant types. Some Solomon’s Seal varietals, like the Great Solomon’s seal (P. biflorum var. commutatum), can grow more than 4 feet in height. Avid gardeners choose Hostas for their variegated leaf greenery in shaded areas, which can grow several feet high.
6. Astilbe Varietals
There are at least 18 species in the Astilbe genus that, like Hostas, are known for their foliage. The Astilbe varietals have a broad spectrum of colors from deep green to darker brown and the tones in between. Like Hostas, Astilbe grows in the shade, and woodland varietals are popular garden choices.
Astilbe, like Hosta, is a perennial that grows from rhizomes. The plants are different, with Astilbe from the Saxifragaceae. Astilbe’s foliage is dense and fern-like so that at a distance, one can mistake the Astilbe for a Hosta. The denseness of leave-growth of the Astilbe is similar to Hostas, and these plants make good companion plants in a shady spot in a garden.
The most striking difference between Astilbe and Hosta is how these plants flower. The Astilbe has feather-like plumes which contrast with the funnel-shaped blooms of the Hostas. The Astilbe flowers stick up tall.
Astilbe perennials bloom for up to three weeks with clusters of flowers on tall spikes. Astilbe is planted along shady edges in gardens and along shady garden paths.
7. Bleeding Hearts
There are similarities between Hosta and Dicentra, commonly known as the bleeding hearts. The likeness stems from their botanical classification rather than being immediately evident when these are growing in the garden. Though the blueish-green tinge of the Dicentra leaves reminds gardeners of the Hosta.
The rhizome propagation of Bleeding Hearts is similar to that of the Hosta varietals. This makes it easy to transplant and share the much coveted Bleeding Hearts with garden enthusiasts. As rhizome growing varietals, they can be divided in spring or fall. What makes these similar is that their leaves and flowers grow from the base.
Hosta and Bleeding Hearts are hardy, good companion plants and grow well in the shade. It is the Dicentra spectabilis variety that often is compared with the Hosta as an easy-to-grow perennial. The blue-green leaves are similar in color to the Hosta. Though the flowers are heart-shaped and come in shades of pink, red, and white (unlike the blue bell-shaped Hosta flowers).