Collections Highlight: A Look at Daylilies 

Daylily, Daylily ‘Tweaked Out’. Photo by Tom Incrocci.

As colorful as a summer sunset, daylilies are a popular perennial noted for the brilliant blooms the plants produce throughout summer months. 

Daylilies have been cultivated by humans for years, originally more for food purposes than beauty. Today, there are more than 80,000 registered cultivars of daylilies. 

The Missouri Botanical Garden features these eye-catching flowers in the Jenkins Daylily Garden, Bulb Garden, and other locations throughout grounds. 

Single large pale peach and mauve rose daylily bloom with a yellow throat and adjacent and background buds. Photo by Tom Incrocci.

Fleeting Flowers 

The daylily’s scientific name, Hemerocallis, combines the Greek words for beauty and day, alluding to its flowers that open at dawn and fade by dusk. While individual flowers fade quickly, each stem produces numerous buds that bloom at different times, making them a favorite addition to a summer garden. Most daylilies peak in June in July, but some continue to bloom until the end of summer. 

Daylily flowers salad with boiled eggs. Photo via iStock.

Human History 

Daylilies are native to Asia, primarily eastern Asia. According to the American Daylily Society, Chinese oral tradition said that what we know today as the genus Hemerocallis was used both for medicinal purposes as well as food from its buds and roots.  

Every part of the daylily is edible, but use of flowers and tubers is the most common for culinary purposes. Modern recipes include everything from salads to fried fritters. The plants are used in Asia for some medicinal purposes including childbirth, anti-nausea or fever reduction. 

The Jenkins Daylily Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Photo by Cassidy Moody.

Daylilies at the Garden 
The Jenkins Daylily Garden opened at the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1988. Mary and Ed Schnarr were the garden’s original creators, with Mary providing the artistic vision and Ed doing the planting. The Jenkins family provided funding for the garden’s creation and people from across Missouri donated the original daylilies. 

Today, the Jenkins Daylily Garden is home to 1,644 daylily plants representing 1,800 cultivars and about 15 species. Cultivars are created by hybridizing species. 

Curating the Collection 
The  Garden’s daylily collections is largely overseen by the local Missouri Botanical Garden Daylily Association and the West County Daylily Society. It includes beautifully curated annual displays featuring unique and historic varieties. Plants are added based on the most recent award winners – eight awards are given out annually so at least eight new plants are added every year. The Daylily Society may opt to add other interesting cultivars as well.  

The garden is arranged by award year and type of bloom. Daylily blooms can be classified as formal, double, spider, unusual, and a number of other descriptors. Some beds may also represent a specific species or honor hybridizers, such as a bed for Missouri hybridizers. 

Bold Blooms and Wild Flowers 
Daylilies come in a kaleidoscope of colors with varying shades of bright yellows, reds, and oranges and vivid violets, pinks, and purples. The only color not seen in current cultivars are blue and a pure white, but hybridizers are actively pursuing these colors, according to the American Daylily Society. 

A few interesting varieties in the Garden’s collection include: 

“Master and Bold Ruler,” which produces impressive11-inch formal blooms. 

Daylily, Hemerocallis fulva var. pauciflora. Photo by Tom Incrocci.
  • Hemerocallis fulva, or the orange daylily. This species has original traits of wild daylilies and is rarely sold commercially because it has been hybrids. Traits that bred into daylilies include bi-tone flowers, eyes or coloration of the center of the flower, double pedals, and pedals with ruffling or different color edges.
A daylily grows in the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. Photo by Steve Frank.

Grow Your Own 

Daylilies can make a lovely addition to your yard. The best time to plant is either in the spring or fall. If you’re looking add daylilies to your landscape, the Daylily Society shares these top tips: 

  • Don’t plant too deep 
  • Mulch around the daylilies. Leaf mulch is a great option.
  • Make sure the plants get at least 6 hours of sunshine and plenty of water.
  • Don’t over-fertilize. Volunteers don’t fertilize anymore as the leaf mulch provides the nutrients.

For more tips, check out this daylily fact sheet from the Kemper Center for Home Gardening.  

Catherine Martin
Senior Public Information Officer

Special thanks to experts Chick  Chick Buehrig of the Daylily Society and Wendy Applequist, Associate Scientist at the William L. Brown Center for providing information.

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