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Daylily Hybridizing Began in Late Nineteenth Century

Illustrate range of daylily cultivars

When we bought our house over thirty years ago, the common orange daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, appeared in spots all around the property.

Therefore I knew they would grow anywhere I planted them in the landscape.

I dug them all up and set each of them in front of the stone wall which ran along the road.

There to this day they remain to bloom every July.

Daylily Hybridizing

Brent Elliott wrote a beautiful book called Flora: An Illustrated History of the Garden Flower (2001).

He covers the history of the daylily or hemerocallis as well.

He says, ” Two species of daylilies, Hemerocallis flava and H. fulva, were introduced from China into Europe in the sixteenth century under the name Lilio-asphodelus, possibly in the form of garden varieties rather than wild species. The modern cultivars began to emerge in North America just before World War II, and North American growers have continued to dominate the genus.”

Botanist Noel Kingsbury in his book Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden agrees they appeared in England in the sixteenth century, but then makes the point that hybriidization began in England in 1892.

The daylily was introduced into the United States in the late nineteenth century as an ornamental.

Here is a botanical painting from 1885 of both hemerocallis flava and h. fulva. They both look familiar to any gardener here in the Northeast. [below]

Hemerocallis 1885 [Image source: Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thome’s Book Flora von Deutschland]

A customer of seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) tried to clear up the name of the yellow daylily.

He wrote in 1880 to Vick and said simply, “Mr. Vick. The plant called Lemon Lily is Hemerocallis flava, or Yellow Day Lily.”

American gardeners already knew the daylily by the early 1880s.


I am amazed at all the daylilies that are now on the market.

Elliott says that it was not until the mid-twentieth century that in America hemerocallis breeding took off in tandem with hosta breeding.

According to Kingsbury, today there are 75,000 registerd daylilies with 1000 new cultivars introduced every year.

Thus you can see that they hybrydize easily.

And to think they all began with the exotic daylily that came in the sixteenth century from China where they were first written about in a book dated the year 304 BCE.


N.B. Top photo of a group of Daylilies [Courtesy of Eden Brothers. Arden, NC]. Thanks

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