Once dismissed as weeds, daylilies have become one of the most popular plants in the perennial garden. They flower in a rainbow of colors and variety of forms. They produce graceful fountains of green grasslike or fernlike foliage. Undemanding and drought-tolerant, a well-chosen group of daylilies will produce a summer-long procession of bloom all by themselves.
Daylilies have been cultivated for nearly four thousand years in China, Japan and Korea. They were carried to Europe by traders and to the New World by settlers. Classified as “Hemorocallis” by Linneaus, the variety “fulva” became the common tawny daylily growing along American roadsides. Tawny daylilies, the bright yellow H. flava and a Japanese variety H. fulva var. “Kwanso” provided the basic genetic material for A.B. Stout’s experiments at the New York Botanical Gardens in the 1930s. Hobbyists and growers have added thousands of hybrids to the original varieties.
Early daylilies were orange or yellow. Today’s daylilies come in almost any hue except blue. Blooms may be striped or have throats (centers) of contrasting colors. Petals may be ribbed, banded, edged, tipped, dotted or dusted with contrasting colors. Petals and sepals may be the same color, different shades of the same color or different colors, or have different patterns.
Daylilies typically have six segments: three sepals and three petals. They may open and appear flat, trumpet-shaped or re-curved (curling under) when viewed from the side. Looking at the flower from the front, it may appear triangular if petals are relatively wide and sepals re-curve, circular when all segments overlap, star-shaped when there is space between long segments or ruffled on either or both petals or segments. Spider flowers have segments that are more than four times as long as they are wide. Double flowers have a second set of six petals, some or all of which may be tufted, ruffled or asymmetrical petaloids. Flower segments may be crepe-like and fragile, nearly translucent, or thick and leathery. They may be ribbed or smooth.
Bloom Size and Scapes
Small daylily flowers measure less than 3 inches across; medium blooms measure 3 to 4.5 inches across. Large flowers spread wider than 4.5 inches, some up to 7 inches. The stalks that bear the flowers, called scapes, bear from 10 to as many as 100 flowers, according to the American Hemerocallis Society. Scapes hold the flowers above the leaves. Low scapes are 6 to 24 inches tall, medium scapes are 24 to 36 inches, and tall scapes tower 3 feet or more.
Daylily foliage is typically yellow-green to blue-green and grasslike in its bushy habit and leaf shape. The plant's long leaves range from thin and slender to thick and leathery. Some newer hybrids have fernlike foliage. Most daylilies are deciduous--their foliage dies down each fall. Breeders have perfected some varieties that are evergreen: new leaves keep growing year-round. Semi-evergreen plants have an atypical dormancy period and do not fit into the deciduous or evergreen category.