Not Your Grandmother’s Daylily
By Kathy Woolsey
In the days of my youth there were orange daylilies growing alongside of the small creek I played in. They could also be found in ditches and along fence lines just about anywhere. In some gardens, yellow and double daylilies could be found, but little variety of colors. In Girl Scouts, I became interested in wild edible plants. Daylilies, although not native, were easy to identify, plentiful and very edible. Daylily buds were a great little trail nibble too. Visit an Asian grocery store today and you will find dried daylily buds often called “golden needles” or “Gum Jum”. Personally I prefer fresh buds sautéed in a little butter; they taste like green beans.
But a lot has happened since those days of orange daylilies in the summer sun. Plant hybridizers have been busy--very busy. Today’s daylilies are far from the common orange flowers of my youth. There are now over 70,000 daylily cultivars; colors range from nearly white to deep purple and from pink to deep red. To add to the color explosion of daylilies, new cultivars are rarely solid colors. There are bi-colors, blends, color bands and contrasting edges. The form of the daylily flower has also changed. Now there are re-curved petals, flat flaring petals, ruffles and curls. Then there is something called chicken fat (not a scientific term) which is thick pale ruffling on the edge of a petal. You can find miniatures for small gardens and giant spider-form flowers with long strap-like petals that are 9 inches across to add drama to the garden.
Now for some technical stuff and a little Greek. Daylilies are not true lilies like Easter lilies. They are members of the Hemerocallis genus. The word Hemerocallis is made from the 2 Greek words: hēmera meaning “day" and kalos meaning "beautiful". The only drawback to daylilies is the fact they only open for one day, but they make up for this flaw by having many flowers. One stem, called a scape, can have over 30 blooms and there are many scapes per plant.
The biggest development in daylily hybridizing in the last decade is extended bloom and re-bloomers. New daylilies listed as extended bloomers open over a longer period of time--usually 16 or more hours. Some will open up in the evening and stay open all the next day. Re-bloomers bloom early to mid-summer and again in the fall. This all adds up to more color in the garden.
The American Hemerocallis Society website is full of information including a data base with some 70,000 cultivars with more added every day. The Society also lists display gardens that are open to the public. There are 26 display gardens in the Carolinas, and they will be coming into bloom soon. If you really wish to learn more about daylilies you will be glad to know we have a Lowcountry Daylily Club. This is a great bunch of folks who are eager to share their knowledge and maybe a few plants as well.