Daylilies have much to offer

By Lee Reich The Associated Press
Friday August 10, 2001

Atop their slender stems, tawny daylilies wave cheery greetings from the roadsides. There are also garden varieties of these pretty plants. 

Some gardeners plant daylilies for food as well as beauty. Daylily is like a supermarket in one plant, with small, edible tubers below ground and an edible flower shoot and flowers above ground. In Asia, the flowers are eaten in all stages, from before they open until after they have wilted. In all these stages they also are dried for winter storage. 

As far as plants go, edible or ornamental, the daylily is unsurpassed for being easy to grow. Daylilies live for years and spread through underground roots, even when neglected. You can transplant daylilies any time of the year. Just give the plant well-drained soil in full sun or dappled shade. Insects or diseases rarely threaten daylilies. 

The beauty of naturalized daylilies, and their abundance, have not kept some gardeners from attempting to improve them further. The plant has been grown in Europe since the 16th century, but breeding began about a hundred years ago, when the first hybrid, “Apricot,” was introduced. 

Since then, thousands of new varieties of daylilies have been introduced – no easy task because innate sterility limits the set of viable seeds. Even among viable seeds, few grow into gardenworthy plants. Of 15,000 seedlings grown by A. B. Stout, working at the New York Botanical Garden and the premier daylily breeder of the early 20th century, only 14 seedlings were worth propagating for their flowers. 

Some typed of daylilies grow less than a foot high, others grow to five feet. And take your pick of colors, from creamy white to yellow, pink, orange or dusky red. 

You can also choose how much money you want to spend. Some of the common varieties are inexpensive, but newly introduced hybrids often fetch more than a hundred dollars per plant. Not bad for a near-weed! Incidentally, no less than a half-dozen books have been devoted exclusively to the daylily, among them “Daylilies, The Perfect Perennial,” by Lewis and Nancy Hill. 

Lee Reich is a features writer for The Associated Press