Who's Afraid of Hemerocallis?

Let’s face it, daylilies have gotten a pretty bad rap in recent years. Hemerocallis fulva is a notorious landscape bully, disregarding smaller, more delicate plants and bulldozing its way from its original location to… well, everywhere else. After all, it’s called ditch lily because of its lack of fussiness regarding where it settles itself, often taking over low-lying roadsides, moist woodland edges, and dry, disturbed soils with ease. Naturally, this known invasion of space has led many to stray away from utilizing daylilies in the landscape, especially native plant enthusiasts who fear complete Hemerocallis havoc amongst endemic species, such as our tender native spring ephemerals.

Unlike the fearsome H. fulva, there are a smattering of daylily varieties that offer nearly a complete rainbow of bloom colors and do not threaten to overtake the landscape. We have several handfuls of different daylilies planted around the gardens here at Pleasant Run, each adding a splash of lively color and dutifully filling in visual space with their strappy, grass-like leaves – some standard yellows and oranges, others with frilled, ruffled petal edges and bejeweled with unexpected mauves, plums, maroons and rubies. The hybridization of daylilies began primarily in the 1930’s, with growers in the United States and Europe pushing to fill the daylily market with options other than the oranges, yellows, and unimpressive reds that were available at the time. Now, the daylily market is saturated with flowers of all types: early bloomers, re-bloomers, patterned and picotee’d varieties, low-growers, goliath growers, and everything in between.

Besides its ornamental abilities, Hemerocallis has long been utilized as a traditional medicinal remedy for the treatment of various maladies, while the buds, blooms, shoots and tubers have been harvested for culinary endeavors in the daylily’s native homeland, China. It’s likely that many of the well-established communities of Hemerocallis fulva that exist in many parts of the United States are the offspring of populations that migrated with European settlers, who acquired the plant from the Chinese and revered it more for its ornamental qualities than its traditional uses.

Luckily, our modern-day daylilies can function as ornamental, medicinal, and edible garden inclusions, and make wonderful collector’s plants for those of us that seem to get a bit overwhelmed by the innumerable Hemerocallis hybrids. Their ability to grow in virtually all types of site conditions makes them perfect for filling in tricky full sun to part shade spaces, and their long and often extended bloom times offer color in the garden even during points of the year where many flowering plants seem to be on hiatus. While the argument can be made against planting aggressive Hemerocallis fulva in the landscape, other daylily varieties shouldn’t be overlooked for their ornamental value.

Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have prescribed preparations of Hemerocallis for millennia, using it as a cooling and detoxifying herb to ward off internal heat, inflammation, and depression by targeteting the liver, spleen and bladder meridians. It turns out, like many of the herbs utilized and studied in TCM, that daylily medicine has the science to back it up. The essential oils found within the aerial parts are responsible for the biological activity, many of them possessing antioxidant, anti-depressant, and anti-inflammatory properties while supporting neurological health. That’s not just species, either – studies have found that even daylily cultivars yield the same beneficial essential oils as their ancestral lineage.

So, how do we enjoy daylilies in the kitchen? How do we harvest them for our own medicine cabinets? Daylilies can be collected at virtually any stage of their life. Young shoots can be harvested and enjoyed as a vegetable, flowers can be eaten raw or dried as a thickener for soups. Even the tubers are said to have a pleasant, nutty flavor, with records of folks claiming that they are some of the most delectable root vegetables they’ve ever eaten. So, the next time you’re scrambling to rip out your ditch lilies, make yourself a worthwhile meal with all of your hard work. Or, experiment with different daylily varieties, taste-testing the various colored blooms and identifying their unique flavor profiles. Whether you decide to enjoy your Hemerocallis for their beauty, their taste, or their medicinal properties, simply the act of having daylilies in the landscape is perhaps one of the most unifying plants worldwide that connects all human beings on a multitude of levels.

Hemerocallis molecules-27-02916.pdf

Hemerocallis antioxidants-09-00690-v2.pdf

Hemerocallis Species - The Day Lilies. (pfaf.org)

Eating daylilies (Hemerocallis) | A Food Forest in your Garden

Old v. New – The Benefits of Modern Daylily Hybrids | Walters Gardens, Inc.

(PDF) The essential oil composition of selected Hemerocallis cultivars and their biological activity (researchgate.net)

Hemerocallis depression ijms-21-01868-v2.pdf

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