Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Daylilies have become a popular in many gardens as they are colorful and one of the easiest perennials to grow under a range of conditions. If you only know the orange daylilies naturalized along roadsides, be prepared to be dazzled by the vast range of colors and flower types.
More than 38,000 registered varieties have been developed by plant breeders, with 15,000 or so still in production and available at nurseries. The basic colors include reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, and purples. There are tints (lighter versions) and shades (darker versions) of each of these, and combinations. Breeders have worked in recent years to produce “near white” varieties.
The inside center of the flower, the “throat”, is often a different color. If the zone between the throat and petal tips is a different color, the flower is called “eyed” or “banded.” If the edges of the flowers are a different color, they may be called “picotee.” The midrib of the flower petals may be a different color, or one color may be spotted or “dusted” over another color.
Daylily flowers also can have different forms. When viewed from the front of the flower they can appear rounded, triangular, star shaped (often the flower petals are long and separate, and may be called “spidery”), ruffled when the flower petals have ruffles along the edges, or double if there are more than the usual three petals and three sepals (false petals which often look just like the petals).
The scientific name of daylily (Hemerocallis) comes from the Greek words for “beauty” and “day”. Individual blooms generally last only one day, hence the common name. So even though a flower may only be open for a day, with many new flowers opening daily, a daylily may bloom over a period or two or three weeks on average. One goal of breeders has been to increase the number of flower stalks, or “scapes”, per plant as well as the number of blooms per scape. It is not uncommon to have a mature clump with 200 to 300 blooms during the season. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties, and you can have continuous blooms over a three month period. You can also get repeat blooms from some selections such as Stella d’Oro and Happy Returns.
Related to lilies, daylilies were originally placed in the lily family (Liliaceae). They are often referred to as lilies, yet differ in significant ways. They have leaves, and many flower stalks, arising from the base. True lilies have flowers on a main stalk along with leaves. Daylilies have thick storage roots, while lilies arise from bulbs. Now daylilies are placed in their own family (Hemerocallidaceae).
Although the daylily is a popular American landscape plant, it actually had its origins in temperate regions of Asia. Breeders in the United States and England have been improving this genus since the early 1930s. It is amazing to think our myriad varieties today all originally were selected or bred from orange, yellow, and red species.
Bloom time varies from July through October, depending on the cultivar (cultivated variety). One of my earliest to bloom, often in late June, is Bertie Ferris (persimmon orange). Other early choices blooming with iris or shortly after include Forever Stella (gold, small flowers), Happy Returns (canary yellow version of Stella d’Oro), and of course the most popular of all time, Stella d’Oro (golden yellow). My favorite late cultivars, blooming in September, are Final Touch (pink) and Autumn Minaret (yellow spider shape with light brown markings). The latter is also one of the tallest, its flower scapes reaching six feet.
Some of the best single color cultivars for northern gardens are Francis Fay, Mary Todd and Stella de Oro (yellow varieties); Barbara Mitchell and Fairy Tale pink (pink varieties); Bess Ross, Apple Tart and Red Rum (red varieties); Gentle Shepherd and Guardian Angel (near white); Prairie Blue Eyes (lavender); and Bertie Ferris and Ruffled Apricot (orange varieties). Custard Candy (peach with yellow throat and red eye zone), Strawberry Candy (pink with red eye zone and red ruffled edge), and Fooled Me (golden with red eye zone and ruffled edges) are popular newer bicolor cultivars in our region.
Check with your local nursery for other varieties suitable for your
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