Hosta are the perennial shade foliage plant par excellence. Only ferns, perhaps, can match them on this stage. Hostas originate from the Far East, particularly damp woodland areas in Japan. Named in honour of Nicholas Thomas Host in 1812, there was a brief period when they were reclassified as Funkia in 1817 but this name did not gain favour and they reverted to hosta. Funkia, however, is still used in some European countries today.
Hostas enjoy the fabled “moist, well-drained soil”; which plant wouldn’t? However, it is often surprising how poor a soil they will tolerate. The usual criticism levelled at hostas is their vulnerability to slugs and snails and many people are put off them because of this. This is a shame because there are many ways to mitigate against this. Choosing the right variety is a good start. In general, the larger varieties are more resistant than the small ones. Furthermore, we can now breed hostas which are relatively resistant. For example, many tetraploid (double the normal chromosome complement) hostas are now available. Tetraploidy confers a thicker, tougher leaf to the hosta which makes it less palatable to slugs. Another strategy is to overwhelm the slugs with quantity and variety. By having many different varieties there will inevitably be some that are more susceptible than others and can be regarded as sacrificial. You will then find that other varieties survive relatively unscathed. Slug pellets, beer traps, crushed egg shells, cinders etc all have their place too.
When choosing hostas, many people are overwhelmed by the vast choice available with numbers of named cultivars running into the thousands. Remember, however, that many of these look identical and differ from each other in some other respect, such as vigour, sun tolerance etc, as indicated previously. Viewing online lists and poll results for “favourite hostas” often brings up the same names time and again and these can be selected with a degree of confidence. A couple of such lists are the American Hosta Growers Association Hosta of the Year and the Top 100 hostas poll on the GardenWeb hosta forum.