Summer is upon us with beautiful long days of sunshine and abundant harvests. The mountains are bursting with flowers and nature is running at full throttle in the plant world. All along the roadsides fields of wild orange daylilies are blooming along with carpets of yellow, red, and fire orange hybrids planted in huge color blocks around Asheville. Daylilies are signaling summer’s arrival with a particularly lush bloom cycle this year. The special gift of daylilies is that they are tough and hardy, they reproduce easily and are adaptable to such a wide variety of soil and light. In Chinese literature, daylilies are symbolized by the characters for “forget worry” which is a perfect metaphor for summer’s bliss, but also indicates how easy they are to grow and cultivate.
Daylily’s genus name Hemorocallis comes from the Greek words hemera and kalos which translate to “Beautiful Day.” What a perfect description for these lovely flowers. Though each lasts only 24 hours, every morning new blossoms herald the coming of a beautiful day on planet Earth! Every summer as a child I hiked across meadows to a steep hillside carpeted with thousands of orange flowers. I would gather huge bouquets of these wild ‘Tiger Lilies” for my grandmother and mother, who took great delight in watching new flowers open every morning throughout the house. My mother would look sad every night when all the blooms wilted and closed, but the next morning she would smile at the fresh new bouquet and say “Look at the miracle of life.”
Daylilies are members of the lily family and are native to Asia. These popular semi-evergreen perennials are part of most gardeners’ repertoires. They prefer full sun and when planted in fertile soil will rapidly grow and spread. Over the years, growers have registered hundreds of hybrid varieties. The widespread and rather invasive Tawny Orange daylily and the sweet scented yellow “Lemon Lily” were introduced by Europeans in the 17th century and quickly escaped from gardens into the wild. They now thrive throughout Zones 1-11, which means they will grow just about anywhere! Common names include ditch lily, outhouse lily and washhouse lily, since they thrive in roadside ditches and were planted near outhouses for many decades. The flowers and buds of common orange daylilies are edible and tasty. The young flower buds can be prepared like string beans and the flowers can be added to salads in small quantities or frittered and served with maple syrup. Both parts of the plant are loaded with beta-carotene. The small tubers are also edible; one must be careful to avoid their poisonous lookalikes such as daffodil and iris, but it is easy to tell the difference once the plant begins to flower.
The daylily is an important herb in Chinese medicine, dating back to the Sung dynasty in 1059 A.D. An infusion can made from the flowers to treat post-traumatic stress disorders and to reduce fevers, as a painkiller and as a sedative. In addition, daylilies have been used successfully to treat arsenic poisoning and insomnia. The tuberous roots have been shown to have anti-microbial and anti-parasitic properties. Daylilies are even being researched as a possible cancer treatment due to the discovery of anti-tumor compounds within the plants. Still, one must be careful not to eat too many raw flowers because they can cause diarrhea. It is also best to stick to the common wild orange daylily, as not all hybrid varieties are edible.
We grow over 25 varieties of daylilies on our land and the range of colors and textures is astonishing. Some are ruffled, others are double and triple, others sport bicolor blooms on the same flower and some dwarf varieties re-bloom several times in the growing season. Daylilies always bring a smile to my heart and soul as they bloom and bloom, every day for weeks on end, reminding us daily of the miracle of life.