The Daylily Is A Beauty For A Day

The daylily, a popular perennial flower in residential gardens and along country roads, blooms for only a single day. The famous botanist, Linnaeus classified the daylily in the genus “Hemerocallus” since hemera in Latin means a day and kalos is beauty, therefore “beauty for a day.”

When I was told last year the daylily flower bloomed for a day, I was skeptical since daylily flowers in my gardens at home appeared to be in continuous bloom day after day. To prove the duration of bloom I placed a pony tail holder over a mature daylily bud one afternoon. The next day the bud blossomed and the following day was closed and withering. The daylily did indeed bloom for only a day.

A wonderful reference book, “The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies,” by Ted L. Petit and John P. Peat (2008) describes daylily history, physiology, cultivation and hybridization techniques for anyone who wishes to learn more about this beautiful flower.

Daylilies are native to China where botany records of Emperor Huang Ti dating to 2,697 BC honored the daylily for beauty, food and medicine. The daylily was introduced into Europe in the 1500s via historic trade routes. In the early 1900s, Albert Stewart, a botany professor at the University of Nanking in China sent daylily seeds and roots to Arlow Stout at the New York Botanical Gardens. Stout’s fascination and passion for daylilies enticed other gardeners in the United States and Canada to cultivate and hybridize daylilies.

The process of intentionally pollinating one daylily with desirable characteristics with another daylily, also with different but desirable qualities, is called hybridization. Similarly, hybrid corn is produced by pollinating an early maturing corn plant with a high sugar containing corn plant to produce early maturing sweet corn for human consumption. From the original daylily colors of orange, yellow and rusty red, hybridization has produced flowers in true red, pink, lavender and green colors. Flower sizes can vary from 3-8 inches in size. Petals may have ruffled or gold edges. Colored central rings resembling mascara have been created. Today as a result of hybridization gardeners in Europe and North America have created more than 60,000 daylily varieties

The normal daylily has 22 chromosomes but varieties with 44 chromosomes were created yielding vibrant colors and large flowers. An interested hobby gardener can produce new hybrid daylilies by transferring pollen from one known variety to another variety using an eyeliner brush in their backyard, collecting and planting seeds then waiting 1-2 years to observe the new flower creation.

Daylily plant anatomy is typical of flowers. Roots are tough and tuberous because they store water and nutrients. Leaves are long and slender unlike true lilies which have alternate or whorled leaves on the flower stem. Each stem contains multiple buds. The flower has three petals and three sepals which cover the bud and petals. Six long thin strands called “stamens” emanate from the base of the petals. Pollen is produced at the tip of the stamen. The pistil, a long thin tube centrally located in the middle of the flower, is surrounded by the six stamens. The tip of the pistil receives pollen which grows down the tube to fertilize eggs in the ovary. Many daylily varieties require a period of freezing weather called “dormancy” to grow the next season. Daylilies prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Fertilizer used sparingly or compost promote vibrant blossoms. Root clumps double in size each year so thinning every few years is desirable to permit old roots to reach new soil. Daylilies can acquire fungus rust which can be treated with a fungicide. When I purchased several daylily varieties this season, the collector gardener told me, “Daylily plants never die.”