As is very often the case with plants without which the modern garden seems to be unthinkable, it all started with the fact that people have been eating daylily of the valley since time immemorial. Both the young leaves and the thick rhizomes and buds were eaten. Even two and a half thousand years ago, in ancient China, it was used not only for culinary but also for medicinal purposes. Information about it has come down to us, thanks to Confucius. Around the same time, the first mentions of daylily of the valley come down to us from Europe: none other than Pliny wrote about them as delicious delicacies.
Let’s take us back to 1753, to the Swedish town of Uppsala, to the university study of Carl Linnaeus, and over his shoulder we can see how he dipped his quill in an inkwell and wrote the name of the daylily leaf – Hemerocallis, which literally means “colorful day” or “beautiful one day”, clearly fixing in the scientific name the characteristic feature of this plant – the flower lasts one day.
Here we want to make a small digression from the history of daylilies and tell a funny fact that, as early as in the middle of the 19th century, the genus daylily of the valley and the genus hosta were united into one! In various scientific works of that time, one could come across the phrase Hemerocallis sieboldiana – and this was none other than the Ziebold hosta we all know! Conversely, the yellow daylily of the valley was called Hosta lilio-asphodellus. So, the path to the modern understanding of the daylily leaf’s place in the complex system of the plant kingdom was thorny and ambiguous.
But even after this momentous day for almost a quarter of a millennium ornamental qualities of the daylily leaf were in the shadow of its gastronomic qualities, and only at the end of the 19th century began to show interest in the plant we are considering. No wonder: by this time, over 10 species had already been described. And in 1860 the first variety of red daylily of the valley (Hemerocallis flava) was described – the macrose H. fulva var. kwanso. It is known to this day. And now that the number of cultivars of hybrid daylilies has exceeded 80,000, this, the first one, has its rightful place in our gardens and in our hearts! Around the same time, the mottled form of red daylily was found in nature.
But what about the wild species? How many are there, where do they live? Do they have any significance for the design of our gardens? Certainly, yes! Different researchers count up to 30 species of wild daylilies. China and Japan are the center of their mass distribution. They are also found in Korea. We have several species in the Far East and Eastern Siberia and one of them – Hemerocallis thunbergii – is present on the Commander Islands. In Europe, two species are widespread – red H. fulva and daylily of the valley yellow H. flava, and only the latter is considered aboriginal. The red one was introduced into the Mediterranean in the distant past, where it quickly spread all over western Europe. Of course, the main significance of the wild species is that they were the material for the appearance of hybrid daylilies, but not only that – their laconic beauty will not leave you indifferent. Plus, many of the wild species have a wonderful fragrance, and it varies from species to species, albeit very similar. New species of daylilies have been described until very recently. The last two have been described and found in mountainous China. New natural forms of already known species are found, and, naturally, if the opportunity arises, these novelties are embarked on a difficult process of hybridization…
The first hybrid daylilies were not much different from the natural species. The next milestone in the adoption of the daylily leaf as one of our garden favorites was the founding of the American Daylily Leaf Society (AHS) in 1946.
Of course, for a long time, the reddish has remained in the shadow of its more famous relative, the daylily. Even in several European languages our chosen one sounds like daylily (English) or Tugdaylily (German), which means “day lily”.Lavender Blue Baby Well, being “in the shade” does not mean being worse. In order to perpetuate the name of Stout, it was decided to award the honorary title of “Daylily of the Year” and to give the Stout Medal to the best variety. In 2007 that was Laverder Blue Baby. Look at him – isn’t he beautiful? And every year this society holds a competition in many categories – best terry variety, most fragrant daylily, best spider, etc.
The impetus for the victorious march of the daylily in our gardens was micro clonal propagation. It has been in commercial use for less than 10 years now, a method of propagation that has met with a fairly rapid increase in demand for fresh varieties. Opinions vary about the quality of meristem plants. They are supposed to have a different color from the reference variety, and they can be overgrown… So far, we know of no serious research on this question – that for several years, under the same conditions, daylilies of the same variety were grown under the same conditions, obtained by micropropagation on the one hand, and by the usual vegetative propagation on the other hand.
The daylily leaf does not have such a rich and interesting history as, for example, the daylily leaf – no one wrote essays or poems to this plant. Except to recall a saying of Karel Čapek, who called the daylily leaf the flower of the intelligent lazybones. But I think this aspect – for the lazy or not, we will consider in the chapter on agricultural technology. And the fact that the army of admirers of the wonderful flower grows year by year, tells us that the history of the daylily leaf is not finished and it is too early to put an end.
What unusual shapes and colors hybridizers will surprise us with, we do not know, but that it will be in the near future, no one doubts!