Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Chilling Facts about a Hosta Virus

There is a virus in the “hosta world” that is at epidemic proportions. The virus is known as Hosta Virus X (HVX). And unlike the common cold, hostas that catch this virus will not get better with time.

A number of years ago it was discovered that the unusual mottling and markings on a few newly registered hosta varieties were not new varieties with interesting leaves, they were actually hostas with a virus. And while it is not known where the virus originated, it is known that the virus spreads when the sap within a healthy hosta is exposed to the sap of a hosta carrying HVX. Before people were aware that HVX existed, the virus was spread to large numbers of plants during the automated mass harvesting and cleaning of field dug plants being prepared to distribute for retail sales.

Here is a healthy Hosta Striptease
How do you know if a hosta has HVX? It can be as simple as knowing what to look for on the leaves. The most common visual clues are marks that look like bleeding along the veins of the leaf. In light colored hosta, the bleeding is usually darker than the leaf color. In dark hosta, it can appear lighter colored. As HVX advances, the cells in the leaf collapse, giving the leaf a puckered look.

Hosta Striptease with HVX
Hosta Virus X cannot be cured. If you have a plant with HVX, the plant should be dug up and thrown in the trash (not your compost pile). It is also disconcerting to know that a plant can harbor the virus for many years before any symptoms appear. Therefore, it’s important to clean your tools between plants. It is too easy to spread the virus during routine plant maintenance, like when you use your clippers to remove leaves or flower scapes, or you mow the lawn and clip a few leaves, or you use the same shovel to move a few plants around in the garden. As you can see, there are many ways you could unknowingly pass the sap from one hosta to another if you are unaware or do not clean your tools before working on the next plant.

Hosta Baby Bunting with HVX
If you like to include hosta in your garden designs, you should know how to visually identify infected plants when you shop. Trust me, when you know what to look for, you will be very surprised to discover how many infected plants are available for sale – especially at places like the big box stores. I choose to shop with reliable hosta suppliers; people who know something about HVX and work to keep their stock clean.

I recommend reading up on HVX and viewing additional photos of infected plants. There is a wealth of information online. The Hosta Library features lots of information and pictures on this topic. There is also a great discussion forum devoted to HVX at Hallson Gardens. Education is key – both your own and sharing information with others – to help STOP the spread of Hosta Virus X.


  1. Thanks for sharing this very valuable info on hosta virus. Your pictures and links should help gardeners identify a potential problem.

    There are a few hostas available that are perfectly fine but look questionable after you have looked at a few virus pictures. One in my garden is Kiwi Forest which people sometimes question.

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener
    Marshfield, Vermont

  2. I hardly have any shade so I only have one hosta, but this is a really important post. I'm trying to build shade because I love hostas, and now you've given me some good shopping tips. thanks.

  3. Thank you to both of you for your feedback. So many people and so many garden centers know nothing of this virus and have no idea what to look for. Last year I spoke with a local garden group about hosta and shared information about the virus. Over the next few weeks at least a dozen members contacted me to report that they had seen infected plants for sale and were thankful that they knew what to look for. A little education goes a long way.


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