About Daylilies

History of the Daylily

Daylily history ranges across thousands of years, from their ancient cultivation in Asia, through their discovery and importation by avid collectors in the West, through the early struggles to hybridise and convert the plant to tetraploid, and ultimately into the creation and dramatic craze for the exquisite modern hybrids.  The full story is as much about the people who dedicated their lives to acquiring and changing these plants as it is about the plants themselves.

The story begins in Asia, primarily in China, where daylilies have been cultivated for thousands of years.  Munson(1998) reports that the earliest known reference to daylilies is from China, dated 2697 BC, when Chi Pai wrote a Materia Medica for Empror Huan Ti.  The people of the region enjoyed the species as much for utilitarian reasons, such as medicine and food, as for the beauty of the flowers.  By The 1500s the daylily had made its way into Europe, probably via land and sea trade routes.  The herbalists Dodonaeus, Clusius, and Lobeluis described and illustrated the daylily into the late 1500s when Linneaus introduced the now standard binomial system of nomenclature in 1753, he placed daylilies in the genus Hemerocallis within the family Liliaceae.  The term Hemerocallis is from the Greek hemera, meaning “a day” and kallos, meaning “beauty,” literally “beauty for a day.”  

The period 1700 to 1900 was the era of plant hunting, a time marked by the search for new daylily species.  A theory popular among Westerners at this time was that the Garden of Eden could be re-created by gathering together al the beautiful plants that had been scattered around the globe at the fall of Adam and Eve.  Ultimately, it was the collaboration of Albert Steward and Arlow B.  Stout that had the greatest impact on collecting new hemerocallis species and advancing our knowledge about them.  Steward lived in China and taught botany at the University of Nanking, regularly gathering daylilies from their native habitat.  He sent these specimens to Stout, then the director of the New York Botanical Garden.  Stout received more than 50 shipments of seeds and plants from China during his time at the New York Botanical Garden.  He became the foremost authority on daylilies, undertaking the first comprehensive description and classification of the species.  He also began a rigorous breeding program which opened the doors to future hybridising efforts by others.  As a tribute to his contributions, the Stout Medal is the highest award bestowed on a daylily by the American Hemerocallis Society.  The daylilies now found in gardens and in commerce around the world are hybrids many, many generations from the species,  Indeed, the species have become primarily of historical interest,  It takes some effort now to locate Hemerocallis species, for they have been surpassed by modern hybrids and are rarely seen for sale in commercial gardens.  The most likely place to find them is in older home sites in North America and Europe, still forming lovely colour accents where they have been growing wild for generations.

The Daylily Plant

Flowering Season

Peak daylily bloom in South-Africa is from November to mid January.  Many modern cultivars send up a second or third set of bloom scapes to extend the season.  The bloom season of a daylily is categorized according to the start of bloom.  Generally, the bloom season is divided into early, midseason, and late.  Some new hybrids have an extended season and may begin blooming very early and continue through the entire bloom season.  Plants that send up more than one scape are revered to as reblooming, or recurrent, cultivars.

Diploids vs. Tetraploids

The majority of the older daylily cultivars are diploids, which means they contain the normal number of 22 chromosomes.  However, since 1960 a large number of daylilies have been treated with colchicine, a chemical that allows the number of chromosomes in the cell to double as if the cell were about to divide but then prevents normal cell division.  This results in tetraploids, plants that contain 44 chromosomes which is double the normal number.  This doubling of the chromosome count in tetraploids leads to larger flowers with heavier substance and more vibrant colours.  Each cultivar name is unique to one cultivar; therefore, no two cultivars will have the same name if registered with the American Hemerocallis Society.


Understanding the parentage background of a cultivar is as important as understanding the parentage of a famous race horse.  It is essential for breeding favourable characteristics into future generations.  Alternatively, if a cultivar is reported to be susceptible to disease, this undesirable trait can be kept from next generations by not using that cultivar or its prodigy in breeding.  Therefore, most serious hybridisers concerned about the overall quality of the plant kept careful records of the genetic background of their daylilies.  This means recording both the pod (female) and the pollen (male) parents of their seedlings, a simple but time-consuming task.  These records can result in long and complex combinations of names, similar to a human family tree.


The winter foliage performance of daylilies is generally categorised as dormant, evergreen, or semi-evergreen.  Dormant daylily leaves die back to beneath evergreen, or semi-evergreen.  Dormant daylily leaves die back to beneath ground level in the winter.  Since these plants lose their leaves in the winter, the term “deciduous” might be more scientifically correct, but since the term “dormant” is so widely used among daylily growers and hybridisers, we use that term.  Evergreen daylily foliage remains green throughout the winter.  Semi-evergreens retain varying degrees of foliage on either side of the growing point but become dormant at the center of the plant, showing no new growth until spring.


Daylily Cultivation

Daylilies are among the most carefree plants in modern gardens.  Compared to many other garden plants, their horticultural requirements are minimal, and they are highly disease resistant.  This carefree nature has been a major factor contributing to the popularity of the daylily.


Daylilies will thrive in virtually any climate.  While most daylilies do well across a large climatic range, certain varieties perform better in extreme climatic zones.  For example in very hot climates evergreen varieties generally tend to perform better.  Even in locations that receive only mild frosts, many dormant daylilies perform very well.  Although most daylilies require some degree of winter chilling in order to survive or bloom, some varieties perform well even in frost-free climates.


Consider sunlight , soil, and water when planting daylilies.  Daylilies prefer six to seven hours full sun.  The flowers benefit from midday to late-afternoon shade when the sun is at its hottest, particularly in hot, sunny climates and for dark-coloured flowers, such as red, purples, and blacks.  These richly coloured flowers often will scorch in full, hot sun.  If grown in full shade, daylilies will usually survive but will produce fewer flowers or none at all, the scapes will be tall and lean toward the sun, and the foliage will be lanky.  Daylilies are not overly particular about soil conditions, although they do perform best in moist but well-drained soil.  Prior to planting daylilies, loosen the soil as you would for any plant.  Adding organic matter, such as manure, rotted leaves, compost and so on, to your soil is always a benefit.  Prepare a hole large enough to accommodate the plant and form a mound at the bottom of the hole on which to set the plant.  Place the plant and fill in the soil to the same height as before.  The difference in the colour of the leaves will indicate the level of the soil: the leaves will be white where they were below the soil.  Although daylilies are tolerant of  a wide range in soil pH, they prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil.  It is rare for daylilies not to flourishing in the average garden because of an imbalance in soil pH: however, if plants fail to thrive, consider having the soil tested for pH by a local agricultural agent.  Daylilies need a lot of water but do not like to be in standing water.  Daylilies will survive in standing water far better than most other plants.  During bloom season, daylilies especially need plenty of water (3 times a week) to produce large, voluptuous blooms.  Therefore, locate the plants where they can receive an adequate supply of water when needed.  While not absolutely necessary, some fertiliser is beneficial in order to get the maximum enjoyment from your daylilies.  Applications of fertiliser in the spring and prior to bloom time are sufficient to ensure good growth and healthy bloom.



Planting Daylilies  2 3  4 5  6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15


Dividing Daylilies VIDEO



Diseases and Pests

A number of insects can attack the daylily, although none cause serious problems for the average gardener.  Daylilies are so disease and pest resistant that we do not use any pesticides or other chemical in the garden to combat these problems.  However, under certain condition some insects will attack the daylily.  Most daylily growers insist that the few insect and disease problems that affect daylilies are so minimal that no spraying or other treatment should be used.  in fact, many are adamant that chemicals should not be used on daylilies, insisting that the plants should be able to resist such maladies with little help other than routine care.  They believe that any daylily not able to withstand insects and diseases without chemical intervention has no place in the garden. 


Daylilies typically increase from one plant, or fan, into several during the average season, soon forming a clump.  Early autum is the ideal time to divide daylily clumps, since it gives the newly planted fans a long time to become fully adjusted prior to the next spring’s bloom time.  Though the plants can be divided into single fans, the flowers often look better if left in small clumps of two three fans.  Large clumps left undivided for years generally produce blooms of inferior quality.  Therefore for optimal enjoyment of the plants, though it is not necessary, it is best to divide daylily clumps periodically.  It is difficult to suggest exactly how often to divide daylilies, since it depend on how quickly they increase, which in turn is dependent on the particular variety and growing region.  Some daylilies particularly diploids, will increase rapidly, while others particularly tetraploids, may take many years to form large clumps.  Daylilies generally multiply more rapidly in warmer climates,  which also means more frequent dividing.  

To divide a clump, first dig it up and remove as much soil as possible from the root mass.  The dirt can be removed by spraying the roots with a garden hose.  Removing the dirt allows a cleared view of the individual plants and their toot mass.  Often, plants in a clump will have separated their root systems naturally, allowing you to simply pry the plants apart.  If the plants do not pull apart, use a knife to divide them.  If the clump is cut into separate plants, make sure that each plant has some roots attached to it.  Trim the leaves of newly divided plants back to approximately one-half to one-third original length.  Since the roots have been disturbed, the plants are less capable of supplying the leaves with water.  Trimming the leaves allows the plant to survive while it reestablishes its root system.  Dead or rotten roots can be removed, but it is best to leave all live roots on the plant and not to trim the roots, since the plant need as much root system as possible to quickly reestablish.  Some daylilies develop proliferations, or small plants on the flower scapes.  Although they typically do not form roots, they can and often do so during prolonged rainy weather.  Proliferations can be removed from the scape and treated like any other small plant or cutting.


One great Joy of daylilies is that it is so easy to create your own hybrids.  Hybridising allows for a wonderful expression of personal taste and a creative outlet for the spirit.  The actual technique of hybridising daylilies is quite simple-anyone can do it.  Creating new hybrids that express your specific interests is easy with daylilies and one reason so many people have become addicted to this plant.  Simply take the pollen from one flower, paint it onto the pistils of another, harvest and plant the seeds, and within nine months to two years your newly created hybrids can bloom.  The easiest way to hybridise daylilies is to remove a stamen from one flower and brush its pollen onto the pistil of another flower.  A few days after pollination, the daylily flower will drop off.  If pollinating has been successful a very small, green seed pod will be at the former flower base.  If the cross did not take, no seed pod will form, which happens about half the time even under the best conditions.  The seed pod, once formed, will slowly enlarge and reach maturity within six to ten weeks, in midsummer to autumn depending on the climate.  When mature, the seed pod will turn brown and split open to reveal glossy black seeds. Keep a close watch on the seed pods as they mature, for once the pods crack open the seeds will easily scatter by the wind and rain.  Collect the seeds and store them in envelopes or zip-lock bags labeled with the parentage.  Refrigerate the seeds for a minimum of three weeks if they are to be planted.  Pure evergreen varieties swill sprout without any chilling, but daylily seeds with dormancy in their background require refrigeration in order to sprout.  Daylily seeds may be planted outside.  Treat them no different than any other seeds.  In warmer climates, the seeds can be started outdoors in late summer to early autumn and they will grow all winter.  Once planted out, plants will flower in one to three years.  In warm climate or in a greenhouse, if the seeds are planted in early autumn and the plants are fertilised heavily, they can bloom the following

1_pollen 2_pollen 3_pollen 4_pollen Daylily Hybridizing


Small And Miniature Daylilies
Daylilies Mini's

The small-flowered daylily has its own intrinsic appeal and dedicated following.  The very small flowers create charming and delightful bouquets of their own.  They hold a special attraction, perhaps for the childlike, miniature world they seem to inhabit.  The small-flowered daylily hybrids created by hybridisers are not simply smaller versions of large flowers.  They have many characteristics that large-flower hybridisers wish to have in their lines.  Miniatures are flowers less than 7.6cm across, and small flowers, or ponies, are those 7.6 -11.4cm.


Daylily Doubles

Double daylilies are a passion for many gardeners and hybridisers.  The extra petals and petaloids add a greater sense of fullness and depth to the flower, creating a beauty that has captured the imagination and hearts of flower lovers and breeders.  Like double flowers of other genera, such large, full flower form adds a new dimension and gives a completely new look to the flower.

The hybrid double daylily was created from single daylilies that sometimes had double tissue.  These doubles, often only semi-double, began as narrowpetaled flowers without ruffling.  As Hybridisers worked on improving the doubles, the new flowers emerged with wider petals and ruffles, giving them a more finished look.  Through generation after generation of double breeding the blooms became more consistently and fully double.  During the 1980s and 1990s double tetraploid daylilies emerged, with heavier substance and cleared, brighter colours.

Polytepal Daylilies

Daylilies Polytepal

The typical single daylily has three sepals and three petals.  The sepals and petals together are known as tepals.  Polytepals, therefore, are flowers that contain more than the typical umber of tepals.  Four-petaled polytepal daylilies are most common, but several hybrids often produce five-petaled flowers.

Spiders, Variants, and Unusual Forms

Daylilies Variable  Daylily Spider

As the saying goes, everything old is new again.  The daylily species first offered simple, narrow-petaled flowers.  Then hybridising began in earnest in the 1940s, and breeders invested more than 50years toward widening the petals to create a full-formed, round flower.  Narrow-petaled flowers definitely became passe.  But styles change, and the narrow-petaled daylily is in fashion again- spiders are all the rage.  However, the new spiders have a number of features that set them apart from the species.  They are narrower than the original species, with longer petals, creating flowers that look like spiders, indeed.  They are more open and flatter than the species and show little or no overlap in the throat.  Again, hybridisers have had to start from scratch in their attempts to produce tetraploid spiders, a relatively new commodity.  They are some of the most avidly sought after daylilies-difficult to find and expensive to buy.  

The spiders have grown more interesting in the last few years, getting larger and narrower, with new features such as ornate shark-toothed, tentacled, and gold-braided edges  They also have increased twisting and twirling and complex eyes and edges.  Spider even come in double and polytepal forms.  The American Hemerocallis Society wrote a definition for spiders and spider variants.  They concluded that a true spider must have petal lentgh-to-with ratio of 5:1 or higher.  A spider variant must have a petal length-to-width ratio of at least 4:1, up to but not including 5:1

Another group of daylilies at first glance might appear to be spiders or variants, but they have wider petals than spiders, and the floral segments appear to have consistent “movement” These are grouped under the designation “unusual forms”  and have gained a following of their own.  In response to the new interest in unusual forms, the American Hemerocallis Society developed a definition for them as well.  Unusual form daylilies fit into three categories-crispate, cascading and spatulate.  Any daylily showing one or more of these categories or subcategories, known as movements, in their flower segments is qualified to be an unusual form daylily as long as it does not meet the official definition of a spider or spider variant.

Eyed and Patterned Daylilies

Daylilies Eye    Daylilies Eye and Picotee

The eyes of daylilies developed from members of the species that had dark eyes in the flowers. Since then, hybridisers have made remarkable and dramatic changes in eyezone characteristics.  Along the way, they have altered other details of the flower to create fascinating patterns within the bloom.  The size of the eye ranges from a very narrow band to covering most of the petal.  The size of the eye has been altered, creating triangular or chevron shaped as well as square eyes.  Eye colour has also been modified until many different eyezone colours now exist.

The eyezone colours have also been painted along the petal edges to create a pattern called picotee.  These picotee edges first appeared as a small wire of colour extending from the eyezone as it touched the petal edge.  Hybridising efforts gradually pushed the eyezone colour increasingly further around the petal edge, until it formed an edge of dark contrasting colour completely surrounding the flower petals.  The vast majority of daylilies with picotee edges have eyes that match the picotee colour, but a few hybrids contain a darker edge without an eye.  These picotee edges without an accompanying eye are currently not as dark, dramatic, or contrasting as those found on flowers with eyes.  Picotee edges have been increased in width, and more recently they have been surrounded by secondary edges of silver, gold, and white.  This complexity has created a stunning and sometimes shocking effect in the modern hybrids.  In some the eyes have become so large and the edges so wide that little petal self remains visible.


Single Colour Daylily  Daylilies Ruffles Ruffles

Single daylilies in their myriad colours are by far the most popular form.  The flower has a pleasing simplicity that so many gardeners and enthusiasts find serene and peaceful.  However, hybridisers have not been happy to simply leave these flowers alone.  From what began as narrow-petaled, triangular flowers, hybridisers have gradually widened the petals to form increasingly more round flowers.  As the petals increased in width, ruffling began to emerge, so that many daylilies have both a round and ruffled form.  From this initial ruffling has emerged ever increasing types of ruffles, from soft looping ruffles t o tightly crimped edges on some of the newer hybrids, indeed some of the newest hybrids are so ruffled that much of the petal is consumed in ruffling that extends well into the throat area.  Ruffling has also led to several types of ornate edging, such as hooks and horns, shark’s teeth and heavy gold edging. 


American Hemrocallis Society awards won by the cultivars.  Here is a list of these awards.

Stout Silver Medal (or the stout Medal) is the highest honour bestowed upon a cultivar.

Award of Merit goes to a cultivar that is not only distinctive and beautiful, but also proven to be a good performer over a wide geographical area.

Honourable Mention is the first official stamp of approval from the society.

Donald Fischer Memorial Cup is awarded to the most outstanding miniature cultivar.

Annie T Giles Award is for the best small-flowered daylily.

Ida Munson Award goes to the best double-flowered daylily.

Don C. Stevens Award goes to the best bold-eyed or bandit daylily

Eugene S. Foster Award is for the best late- to very-late-blooming cultivar.

Harris Olsen Spider Award is for a cultivar that meets the definition of spider or variant.

Lenington All-American Award is for outstanding performance in different climatic regions.

Acknowledgement:  The Colour Encyclopedia Of Daylilies