Leaf Lore: Daylily

“Day O! Day O! Daylily bloom and me wanna take home!”

Let’s sing it loud and proud for daylilies! Some people may say they are ordinary, but daylilies are one of those great perennials that are easy to grow for beginners because they handle wet conditions, drought when established, full sun, and part shade. Yet their versatility and beauty can still be appreciated by those with years of experience in the garden. The botanical name for daylily is Hemerocallis which is formed from two Greek words meaning “beauty” and “day”. Aptly named, since each flower will only last one day, but luckily, each stalk will bear multiple flower buds to extend the blooming season.

Daylilies are native to Asia and were brought to Europe in the sea trade, more than 400 years ago. Sea captains often presented them to their wives as a souvenir of their trip to the Orient, which the wives then planted in their gardens. You can see descendants of these original daylilies in the form of the Tawny Daylily (aka Tiger Lily, Ditch Lily, Hemerocallis fulva) that escaped and now reside in roadside ditches and fallow fields. Many of today’s daylily varieties were hybridized from the Tawny Daylily. But don’t be tempted to relocate any of these to your own garden. They can be very aggressive and will take over a yard. Once established, Tawny Daylilies are very hard to get rid of.

Left: Chicago Apache Daylily | Right: Johnson's Nursery grows nearly all of our own daylily perennials

Feeling hungry? The Ohio State University website’s Weed Guide says that “all parts of the daylily are edible, and plants have been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia for food. The buds or new flowers are regularly cooked and eaten in China and Japan. In addition, the rhizomes can be chopped and cooked like potatoes, and are said to be as sweet as sweet corn. The tuberous roots have a nut-like flavor, and can be eaten raw or roasted. Young shoots have been prepared like asparagus, but consumption should be avoided.” Apparently, some reports claim that eating large quantities of the young shoots can cause hallucinations and be toxic!

Today there are over 55,000 different varieties of daylilies. The flowers can be bi-colored or have colored edges, ruffled petals or smooth, colored throats and eyes, blooms can be miniature or large, or dusted with color. Such an abundance of options can be credited to Dr. Arlow Burdette Stout, the first person to seriously begin hybridizing daylilies. Dr. Stout was born in Albion, WI (a small town located 27 miles southeast of Madison) on March 10, 1876. He was a graduate of the Whitewater State Normal School and later the University of Wisconsin, where he taught botany. In 1911 he was appointed director of laboratories at the New York Botanical Garden where he spent 36 years revolutionizing the country’s daylily breeding program, increasing their popularity among nurseries and the public. (He was also instrumental in introducing seedless grape varieties.) Before Dr. Stout, daylilies were only available in orange, yellow, and dull reddish-yellow colors. His experiments in cross pollination of Hemerocallis species opened the door for other plant breeders to introduce all different shades of red, pink, purple, melon, cream, yellow, and orange.

Left: Stella D' Oro Daylily | Right: Little Grapette Daylily

If you have the room, consider creating a space in your yard devoted to just daylilies. Mix and match multiple varieties in a sunny spot or mix them in with complimenting perennials like Russian Sage and Catmint. With so many varieties to choose from, you can have an entire summer of their blooms, if you pick the right assortment. Butterflies and hummingbirds will be drawn to the rainbow of colors. However, deer are also drawn to the juicy flower buds, especially during times of drought, so if your yard is a favorite spot for them to frequent, you will want to take precautions in the form of repellents or fencing.

“Deer O! Stay away stay away stay awaaaay O!”

Featured image: Hemerocallis "Happy Returns"