Toad Lily Bloom

'Samurai' Toad Lily

"In chaste hearts uninfluenced by the power
Of outward change, there blooms a deathless flower."

-Michelangelo Buonarroti


Tricyrtis formosana (formerly T. stolonifera) is presently the most gardened Toad Lily, & 'Samurai' the most popular cultivar. But this could be rapidly changing as new species & cultivars are being introduced at regular intervals for this suddenly faddish genus.

The original variant was spotted in the garden of a Mrs. Masaoka in Japan, by Clarence H. Falstad III, a Michigan grower. Mrs. Masaoka permitted starts to be brought back to the nursery Clarence worked for. No one knew the species at first, because a variegated form of T. formosana was not previously known or expected, but with the help of Darrell Probst it was finally identified.

We planted ours amidst corydalises & dicentrums in the shade corridor, fairly close to a path. The first photo (snapped in August 2003) captures leaves from an Eastern Bleedingheart ( Dicentra eximia 'Pink' ). As this toadlily spread upon underground rhizomes, it popped up the next year between a Long-eared Holly Fern (Polystichum neolobatum) & an evergreen Sweetbox ( Sarcococca ruscifolia), a few leaves of each poking into the second photo snapped in October (2004).

Toad LilyIt has become a cliche to say of them, "Plant close to path so you can view from mere inches away." It's good advice. From a distance the miniature lilies can seem rather lost, but bend down & look closely, they can take the breath away. They are halfway between an orchid & a tiger-lily, but only one-inch small, in loosely branched clusters or cymes, purple-spotted with yellow throats. As cut flowers, toad lilies are long-lasting in bouquets.

Being a variegated form, the foliage, slightly resembling a dwarf Solomon's Seal, adds creamy edging to the green leaves. At twelve to eighteen inches tall, rarely two feet, Samurai is about half the size of the species. It spreads slowly into a small clump less than a foot wide, then will form new young plants along its travelling rhizomes, very slowly colonizing an area, but by no means aggressively. Eventually, young plants can be severed from the parent to transplant in spring, or the whole clump can be divided. 'Samurai' is quicker than some varieties to bounce back from being dug up & divided.

Grown in partial to full shade in moist but not boggy ground, it will require no attention to thrive, & once established will be to a degree drought tolerant but less leafy without regular watering. It is a strong perennial in USDA zones 4 through 9, though at the colder end it would need protection from early frosts that can freeze off the buds before its late-flowering season really gets started.

The flowers arrive by August & last until deep into autumn. Their long presence provides a unique spot of color when much of the shade garden has ceased to bloom. Even for spring & early July when not in bloom, 'Samurai's' yellow-edged green leaves have a beautiful presence.

Toad LilyThe name Toad Lily derives from a popular fraud, & the rest of this essay regards that hoax as one of the most amazing pieces of science-generated fairy lore ever seen, & which ultimately explains the common name "Toad Lily," to whit:

In 1971 during the regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, a family was coerced into living for some years in the southern Mindanao rainforest, posturing as a Stone Age Tribe, clad in leaves tied around their waists, & eating only such raw foods as fruit & tadpoles.

The National Geographic Society was thoroughly duped, reporting on the Tassaday as dwelling in a "primeval Eden" in the August 1972 issue of their very pretty but scientifically retarded magazine.

The Society found nothing at all unlikely about this pre-clothing, pre-fire-making, pre-anything cave-dwelling family unchanged since prehistoric times, who had no words for War or Anger, never fought among themselves, & burst into tears if you brought up the subject of death. National Geographic followed up with a fabular television documentary.

At the end of 1972, when the hoax was a year & a half old, visits to the Tasaday came to a near halt, with the tribe's "discoverer" Manuel Elizalde, Jr., providing increasingly restricted access until 1975, when all access ended. In 1976, Marcos issued an edict that any person who tried to reach the Tasaday be imprisoned if they failed to obtain Elizalde's permission, who ceased to give such permission.

Elizalde was an eccentric millionaire politician. He was his country's official Minister of Culture when he trumped up the Tasaday, & the idea may initially have occured to him as a tricky way to pump up tourism. Whether or not Marcos knew it was a hoax is not really known. His wife was certainly fooled, so Marcos may have been as well. If so, then Marcos must've closed down access merely because Elizalde explained how the Tasaday way of life was being destroyed by outside contacts. Others believe Marcos joined the hoax after-the-fact to distract the international press from extreme abuses resulting from his having declared Martial Law against his own people.

Some have speculated that Elizalde intended to hoodwink wealthy donors into contributing to his pet project called the Private Assistance for National Minorities (PANAMIN), to bring education to tribal peoples, & he just never expected a well-meaning prank to go so much further than parting a few wealthy people from their money. Once millions were in hand for this "good cause" even from the Rockerfellers, he dared not admit it was a fantasy perpetuated to defraud funds, whether or not for a good cause. When Marcos fell, Elizalde was one of the first of his cronies to flee the country, taking the PANAMIN monies with him as his personal wealth.

Still others think Marcos was in on Elizalde's hoax from the start, & that both men had personal profit as their primary motivation, since they certainly did block all rivals from access to highly valued mineral & lumber rights in the Mindanao region.

Elizalde never revealed his reasons for setting up such an elaborate prank, though he was still living when it was at long last known. He had always been an inveterate prankster, but this took on a greater life of its own. The hoax won him friendships with international movie stars & leading politicians & jet-setters such as were taken by helicopter to visit the prehistoric tribe throughout 1972. It became impossible to admit, "Fooled ya!" without risking the wrath of humiliated politicians & losing the friendship of jet-setters who had been made to look so foolish.

He provided quick & easy time-travel journeys for such people as the dictator's wife Imelda Marcos, actress Gina Lollobrigida, creepy nazi-sympathizing hero-of-flight Charles Lindbergh, & many similar. He hand-selected anthropologists, linguists, botanists, photographic crews, & journalists, among the latter John Nance who would base a career as crackpot pop-anthropologist focusing wholeheartedly on the faked tribe. None of these people were smart enough to detect what was in reality a rather obvious fraud. It is always easiest to fool people who are eager to be fooled.

Nance's book The Gentle Tasaday (1976) was a best-seller. Having tied his wagon to a chicken, he dared not see through any ruse, & persisted in insisting "It's twoo! It's twoo!" even after the fraud became definitively revealed. Not everyone bought the story of course. Anthropologist Gerald Barraman wondered why there was no evidence of Stone Age tools older than the poorly made props shown in the National Geographic film, & he also seriously questioned that any Stone Age people would be so singularly devoid of ritual & myth. Anyone so dubious was automatically blocked by Elizalde from access to the "tribe."

Zeus Salazar & Jerome Bailen of the University of the Philippines provided many early warnings that the hand-selected "scientists" followed no valid research method. Such interference with his hoax encouraged Elizalde to sue the disagreeble scholars for libel. A rich politician can easily silence scholars who can't afford the price of litigation.

In 1986 Marcos was ousted, & reports began at once to appear, that the Last of the Cave Men were actually ordinary farmers who ate a good deal of imported rice rather than stuffing wiggling tadpoles in their mouths, wore modern clothes rather than leaves, lived in ordinary wooden houses, & knew nothing whatseover about Stone Age technology.

In the wake of Swiss journalist Oswald Iten's interviews with the family that had pretended to be The Gentle Tasaday, Elizalde made a halfhearted attempt to "re-activate" the hoax & brought reporters for a German magazine to the leaf-clad primitives in 1987, but it was by then a bit too late, even if their cotton underwear weren't peeping out from under the leaves. The faux-Tasaday were themselves very tired of the stunt & did not want to go live naked in the forest again, no longer had threats of Marcos's retaliatioin held over their head, so they talked.

Robin Hemley helped sort out facts from fables in a book called Invented Eden (2003). But Hemley as a science fiction fan hates to completely spoil a fairy tale, & does frame it all a bit too much as "but could some small aspects of the hoax be true?" in order to sustain controversy; he writes his book partially with a fictioneer's ear. Hemley rather cheekily waffles sufficiently to permit the self-deluded to persist in their belief if they really must.

A roundly deflated "poor gullible John Nance" (as he's appropriately labeled in The Asian Reporter July/August 2003) throughout the revelations persisted in seeking wiggle-room amidst the facts so that he could continue to insist the Tasaday were real & that neither he nor the National Geographic nor any of the movie stars, amateurs, thieves & scoundrals associated with this scheme were ever duped or mistruthful, therefore the Tasaday were absolutely authentic despite that they themselves said they were paid to take their clothes off & pretend.

Nance today has picked up the mantel of that proven thief & known prankster Manuel Elizalde & rather than admit to his humiliation now perpetuates the fraud at a website dedicated to proving actual science & independent journalists are the real hoaxters, whereas invested & controled amateurs, dupes, murdering & thieving politicians, are the only source of the truth. Nance's website actually goes so far as to continue in the praise for Eliezade as a "longtime benefactor" whose death is to be lamented, assiduously overlooking that Eliezazde fled the Philippines taking with him money collected for tribal peoples who, all over those islands, have said they were robbed & exploited by this alleged benefactor. This kind of delusion wherein the worst evils are beneficent seems pathological, even for someone who cannot let go of the fantasy of the Tasaday.

Nance's dumbass book The Gentle Tasaday had once been such a sensational bestseller that the first independent investigation that led to Iten's discoveries & the farm family's confessions, & even Hemley's science-fiction-loving Invented Eden, cannot very well correct the record for the masses who'd seen only the National Geographic television special or read Nance's often-reprinted book of credulous pop-anthropology.

Many definitive journalistic pieces published in Europe & Asia have not been widely distributed at all. The fully scientific articles that found their way into peer-reviewed journals might as well not exist so far as the common citizen is concerned, so that in all Nance's book & now his silly home-page, & old issues of the now-silent National Geographic, still infect common thinking.

Variegated LeavesHindsight being 20/20, in retrospect people look awfully stupid believing such a patent fraud. The Tasaday had no folklore, no songs, no oral history, made no tools, had no burial rites or burials, no chiefs or leaders, no marriages, no secondary family groups with which to marry, no basis for any culture whatsoever. There was no midden (trash-layer) in the cave nor any other evidence anywhere near where they'd purported lived for thousands of years to indicate they had actually done so. Linguists who had listened to their dialect insisted it was only barely related to one other tribal language, but they had been listening to a local form of "pig latin" in which the sound "nuf" was placed at the end of every word, & were simply too stupid to catch what to locals was an obvious joke.

Even the fact that the Tasady seemed rarely to take baths & stood around covered in dirt most of the time fit the racist assumptions about aboriginal peoples as dirty, naked, & too simpleminded to have an elaborate culture, or cultural relics or beliefs. It was frankly not all that well thought-through as a hoax, & the depths of self-deception required to believe such nonsense with all evidence to the contrary is staggering.

Televised films concocted under Elizalde's scrutiny, by second-rate scientist-explorers & amateurs, combined with Romance-desiring journalists all too eager to "believe" & unable to this day to face reality, have successfully placed the Tasaday in the vanguard of crackpot sasquatch-hunters & flying saucer kidnkap victims who will never stop believing. The best "weapon" of true believers today is television crews, the exact same sorts who like to report that the Face On Mars was built by ancient astronauts, & there are invisible glass cities on the moon.

But right from the start the observers themselves trumped up all sorts of glib excuses to explain away every evidence of the hoax, in a "to-be-televised special" context rather than in the context of scientific scrutiny. Hence the Tasaday were said to have not even a rudimentary culture or ability to make tools or much of anything that would identify them as a unique & prehistoric society, because contact with foresters or farmers had overwhelmed & eradicated any echo or semblance of their formerly long-lasting prehistoric culture. The National Geographic convinced themselves they had arrived scant moments too late to observe the Tasaday in their fuller Stone Age glory, & wherever it was too obvious these people could not possibly have been living as they claimed to have been since CroMagnan days, the reporters just made up any excuse they could to believe it anyway.

Secondarily it was just assumed that many essential ingredients of culture & society were lacking in the Tasaday because culture & society didn't yet exist in the Stone Age, when humans were still naked & hadn't yet come up with anything in particular. The depth of ethnocentric foolishness required of "scientists" to pull that much absurdity out of their arses is just too delicious. The second-rate & pseudo-scientists & journalists hand-selelected for their pliability ultimately duped themselves much more than did that Filipino farm-family who pretended to be Tasaday, for W. C. Fields had it right, you can't cheat honest men.

Toad Lily in OctoberIn attempting to meet the Geographic expeditions' desire for some lingering bits of Stone Age activity that was not actually present to be observed, the faked primitive tribe attempted to come up with cultural evidences of their having been living Stone Age lives since, well, the Stone Age. They attempted to make a stone axe, for example, but didn't know how. Their failure was filmed, & the National Geographic's narrator tried to make it seem like only the sad outcome of having been given metal knives by visitors.

Their few & far between tribal skills included hacking open fallen palm trunks to get at the edible palm hearts & catching tadpoles from a stream & popping them in their mouths to swallow raw, since the Tasaday were (moronically enough) older than the discovery of fire. This sort of simpleminded flimflam delighted the scientists no end, in the same way tapdancing pickaninnies with bows in their pigtails might delight slave owners.

Tadpoles & frogs inspired an off-the-cuff invention of an Amazing Stone Age Ability involving the flower genus here in question. The Tasaday showed expedition members their incredible cave man ability to catch frogs, their only source of protein. The method involved first crushing Tricyrtis imeldai all over their arms & hands, claiming the odor was a "frog attractant" so frogs would jump in their hands. No matter how obviously untrue the "evidence" that the Tasaday were real, "scientists" could fill in the cracks in order to Believe. Being not that gullible & knowing frogs weren't attracted to the plant's juices, it was decided that the juices of the plant made frogs less slippery when grabbed.

The Philippine species (named T. imeldai after Mrs. Imelda Marcos) became popularly dubbed "Toad Lily" because of its alleged practical value in attracting frogs & tadpoles to people's fingers.

All this nonsense became familiar even to the marginally educated in the 1970s. The combination of National Geographic magazine photo-essays of cutesy naked Tasaday sitting around their cave with nothing whatsoever to do, Stone Age life being so simple & easy after all, with our little brown brothers being by nature deficient in art or culture or ability to entertain themselves with stories, when compared to all the civilized geniuses of the modern world. The fable-reinforcing television special aired all around the globe, & the runaway best-selling book of crackpot pop-ethnology went equally unquestioned for many years.

Just about everyone accepted the fantasy wholesale until the pseudo-Tasaday themselves revealed the hoax. To this day, the National Geographic Society has refused to publish either corrections, or an apology, after having been at the forefront of perpetuating the hoax. What else in their century of magazine issues is just that worthless, which they would rather keep quite about rather than correct?

And in the meantime, as other species of Tricyrtis were introduced to gardeners, & cultivars developed, the name Toad Lily stuck, celebrating its preposterous usefulness in catching frogs.


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