What is a Daylily?
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What is a Daylily?

Like the true lilies the Daylily belongs to the Liliaceae family. However they fall into is the Hemerocallis genus and not the Lilium genus. The Hemerocallis was first described by Linneaus in his book Species Plantarum in 1753. The name Hemerocallis translates from Greek into Hemera meaning "a day" and Kallos meaning "beauty". So Hemerocallis means "Beauty for a day" and from there we get Daylily since each flower only last for one day.

While Linneaus only classified the Hemerocallis in 1753, the earliest known references to daylilies is from China around 2697 BC. Even though the plants have been know for a long time there is still even today great confusion as to the taxonomy of the species within the genus. We are not even sure how many different species there really are in the world. The actual classification of the species is beyond the scope of this website, but for the most part there seems to be about 30 different agreed upon species recorded. From these 30 or so species all the modern variation have been hybridized.

The Crown

Unlike the Lilies, Daylilies do not have a true bulb. They instead have a crown which is a junction point from where the root system, leaves and flowers grow. The crown is very important to the plant and if it becomes damaged parts or the entire plant will die. When planting the crown should be about .5 inches (1cm) below the soil level.

The Roots

The roots of the plant grow from the crown. Daylily roots are usually a pale tan-brown colour and often have thick fleshy swellings. Not all have these fleshy swellings and are just fibrous in composition. These swollen fleshy organs act as food reservoirs which carry the plant through dormancy and allow them to start growing earlier than other plants in the spring. Unlike Lilies which have contractile basal roots below the bulb and stem roots above the bulb, the daylily only has the one set of roots that anchor and feed the plant.

The Foliage

The leaves of daylilies are strap-shaped, they can be smooth or finely ribbed. Unlike the sword shaped leaves of Irises they usually folded inwards along the midrib. They grow from the crown in two ranks in a arch shape upward and outward. This is called a Fan. The colour can be from pale to dark green with a bluish cast.

The hardiness of a daylily is often represented by what happens to the foliage during the winter time. The foliage falls into one of three main classification, those are Dormant, Semi-Evergreen and Evergreen. There are three sub-categories as well Hard Dormant, Semi-dormant and Soft Evergreens.

Dormants are the most hardy. They are more northern growing plants. In the fall their leaves turn yellow/brown and die. They can be easily taken off the crown. The plants then stay dormant through out the winter until spring. Some dormants will do well in warmer climates but some that were developed for the north and its winter insulating snow cover do not do well in areas with little or no winter season.

Evergreens are the least hardy. Their leaves remain green all winter in the South, but usually turns brown in the North. These plants are sensitive to alternate freezing and thawing so it is a good idea to add mulch in areas this might be a problem. The mulch will also protect them from starting to sprout to early in the spring when chances of frost is still possible. Many of the evergreens are hardy enough to grow in parts of Canada. This has allowed us northern gardeners to try growing some of the new colourful southern varieties.

Semi-evergreens can vary considerably with their hardiness. The semi-evergreens came about from hybridizers trying to take the hardiness of the Northern dormants and combine them with the brilliant colourations of the Southern evergreens. Generally the Semi-evergreens do well in the Southern climates, but not all do will in the colder Northern areas. In the south the tops of their foliage will turn brown or yellow and the lower parts stay green. In the North the foliage dies completely to the ground like dormants. The plant then stays dormant all winter.

Hard Dormants become dormant very early in the fall and stay dormant all winter until spring.

Semi-dormants only go dormant after a period of cold weather later in the fall. They will begin to grow again in the spring time after a few days of warm temperatures. Only the tops of the foliage do yellow/brown and appear dead. Green sprouts may remain in the crown where winters are not too severe.

Soft evergreens are the least hardy daylilies and are suitable for those areas that only experience frost-free winters.

The Flower Scapes

Unlike Lilies which have their blooms at the top of the leafed stem, the daylilies have their bloom at the top of a leafless flower stalk or Scape. The scape grows directly from the crown. The scape is hollow and smooth, it can vary from as little as 1.5 inches (4cm) to over 6 feet (2M). The hybrids range from 9-45 inches (22-115 cm). The average is 18-30 inches (45-75 cm), but some of the new unusual forms can reach 4ft (1.2M). The colour can go from pale green to almost black, Width can be delicate to very thick close to 2in (5cm).

For the most part the scapes are branchless except for the upper third. The number of branches varies from species or cultivar to cultivar. The branching can sub branch as well. Some of the new hybrids can branch 4-6 ways. This greatly increases the number of flower buds per scape, and extends the bloom time.

You may find that a newly planted or divided daylily will have shorter scapes for a year or two. In the third season the plant is sufficiently settled that the scapes grow to their proper height.

Another property of the scape is the way in which it branches. Top-branching occurs where the scape only branches at the very top of the scape. This can be found in many older varieties and descendents of H. multiflora. It is now considered a fault and many breeder are working on eliminating it. Well-branched also known as candelabra or show-branched applies to cultivars that have the branching well spaced along the scape in a candelabra arrangement. The buds are not crowded and make a good show. The term 4-5 way branching means the scape has four lateral branches and one terminal branch.

The bud count refers to the number of flower buds on each scape. The varies from variety to variety and also by cultural conditions the plants are growing in. There can be a few as 10 or over 50 buds per scape. Generally most daylilies have produces all their flower buds by the time the first flower is open. Recently a new development in daylilies is known as bud-builders. These varieties build new buds as the season progresses greatly extending the blooming season. A high bud count is rated at between 30-50 buds, medium is 20-30, and low is under 20 buds per scape.

Another important factor that makes a variety a marketable daylily is the number of scapes that are produced per clump. Some produce large numbers while other may have a spectacular flower and good branching only produce a few scapes in a season. Its kind of a toss up as to which is best, lots of flowers on a few scapes or a few flowers on lots of scapes. The best results would be lots of flowers on lots of scapes. These are the goals breeders are working on now and something to think about when choosing parents for hybridization.

Daylily Calendar







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