Horticulture Highlight: Daylily, Hemerocallis spp.
…Ah, Beloved, do you see those orange lilies?
They knew my mother,…
– Amy Lowell
One of the classic, colorful sights of summer, are the blossoms of Daylily, Hemerocallis spp. Hemera is Greek for day (each blossom generally lives for a day), and kallos means beautiful. While beautiful, some of these are also tough, rugged plants, which are at their best throughout July and August. Among the toughest, are the Tawny daylily, or Orange daylily, Hemerocallis fulva. Long ago, these perennials, in their native Asia, were primarily grown for their edibleness. The flower buds, and flowers, have been eaten for millennia, throughout numerous Asian cultures, and their culinary attributes were likewise adopted in Europe during the Middle-ages, via the Oriental silk routes, eventually coming to America with Dutch and English colonial settlers. These fragrant, funnel-shaped, 3-4” wide flowers, opening in early morning, occur in multiples of 5-20, at the end of 2-to-4 foot-tall, leafless stem, called a scape. Each single flower has three petals, and three sepals, collectively called tepals, and flowers usually have six stamens. The 1-to-2 foot-long, linear, arching, leaves form large, dense clumps.
With such a lengthy cultivated history, it is not surprising that daylilies have also been included in herbal and folk accounts. Laura Martin, in her 1987, Garden Flower Folklore, recounts, “Not only were day lilies tasty, they were also good for you, holding such diverse powers as the ability to relieve pain, cure kidney ailments, and lessen grief. It was called hsuan t’sao, ‘the plant of forgetfulness,’ and was said to cure sorrow by causing a loss of memory….The leaves were also used to treat burns…”.
In the late 1800’s, cultivated varieties of daylilies began to proliferate in Europe. After the two World Wars, the international plant breeders exponentially created innumerable new cultivars. Today there are over 60,000 registered cultivars. One extremely popular example, growing prolifically throughout our area, and at Mount Auburn, is the ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylily, Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’. This yellow-flowered, repeat bloomer, with a compact habit, may provide blossoms for several months.
…The sun anointed the world
In yellow with its fallen light;
Ah, there by the gilded lilies,…
Juan Ramon Jimenez
On your summer visits to Mount Auburn, begin enjoying our daylily blossoms as you pass through our historic Egyptian gate, and then also to be found planted in numerous locations throughout our landscape.
…Outside the door, day lilies
In the high flush of summer…