Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are popular perennial flowering garden plants whose blooms grow at the end of tall stalks called scapes. The genus name is derived from Greek words for beauty and day, referring to the fact that each pretty bloom lasts only one day. But the late-spring flowering period of daylilies lasts for weeks because each scape has multiple flower buds and the plants produce multiple scapes. There are 20 native species of daylilies and more than 20,000 hybrids.
Flowers and Food
Daylilies are not true lilies, even though their trumpet-like flowers resemble lily flowers. True lilies of the genus Lillium grow from onion-like bulbs, while daylilies grow from a mass of fleshy roots that hold moisture and nutrients. Unlike true lily flowers, daylily flowers are edible and can be consumed raw or cooked. In Asia, daylily flowers are treated as a vegetable and sed as an ingredient in recipes. The flowers are sold in food markets fresh or dried.
Not a Native
Because they grow wild in so many places, many people think daylilies are a native North American plant, but they are not. They originated in China and Korea and were introduced to North America by Europeans during the colonial period. Daylily roots can survive out of the ground for weeks. This makes daylilies the hardy travelers that arrived here with the colonists’ ships and spread across the United States in pioneers’ wagon trains. Now they bloom wild along rural roadsides across the country as well as in gardens.
Daylilies have been called the perfect perennial because they are available in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. They can grow in all U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones, but do best in zones 4 through 9. They require little care, tolerate drought, and aren’t fussy about soil pH as long as soil is well drained. They suffer few pest and disease problems and have a long blooming season. When planting, daylilies must go into the ground at least 6 weeks before the ground freezes and should be in a location where they get at least six hours of sun daily.
In the wild, daylilies occur only in orange or yellow. But since the 1930s breeders have developed hybrid varieties with flower colors ranging from cream through varied shades of yellow, orange, red, crimson, pink and purple. Breeders still are striving to produce pure white and pure blue daylilies. There are also hybrids that have petal edge bands or petal tips of a contrasting color, or with ruffled or scalloped petal edges. All daylilies grow clumps of long spear-like green leaves that can range from 6 to 36 inches long.