A Potted history of Daylilies by Andrew Ormerod

Significant Day Lilies Species

Day lilies species are native to Asia. They have been known and revered in China since the time of Confucius, featuring in legends and paintings. The Fulvous daylily was cultivated in China as a food and medicine. It has tranquilizing and hallucinogenic properties. This explains why it was given to people in morning. And explains its Chinese name The Forgetting Bush or ‘hsuansao’. The first daylily species H. lilioasphodelus and H. fulva reached Europe in the 16th Century. The 19th century and 20th century proved to be the richest period for introduction of new species; H. dumortieri was introduced into Holland as seed in 1830. Far more species were introduced at the end of the 19th century such as H. aurantiaca and H. aurantiaca ‘Major’, H. middendorffii (1856), H. citron (1897) and H. thunbergii (1890). Significant plant introductions in the 20th century included the unique pink form of H. fulva,  H. fulva var rose in 1924; the unusually tall H. altissima with its perfumed, nocturnal opening flowers late in the season .

Breeding Day Lilies
Breeding daylilies is a modern phenomenon. The first recorded hybrid was ‘Apricot’ produced George Yeld in England in 1893. Rather like a rolling stone daylily breeding gathered pace, particularly in the United States after the Second World War. The interesting thing about daylilies is the level of diversity in shape colour and form that has been possible to select from the original species, which on the whole visually do not show the same level of variation.

Many of those responsible for developments in daylily, were not professional geneticists or plant breeders, but “backyard” hybridists.

The key breeders of daylilies

Early breeders

George Yeld (1845-1938) was a school teacher living Gerrald’s Cross, England and was the pioneering and prolific daylily breeder as well as breeding iris. One variety much used for breeding in America was J.S. Gayner (1928). Some of Yeld’s varieties which won Royal Horticultural Society Awards of Merit still survive including ‘Dr Regel‘ (1904), ‘Sovereign’ (1906), ‘Winsome’ (1925, which Yeld considered his best), ‘Sirius’ (1930) and ‘Marigold’ (1931).

Amos Perry (1871-1953) established Perry’s Hardy Plant Farm in Enfield, Essex, England. He produced many varieties. His best cultivars include the strongly scented ‘Lady Fermoy Hesketh’ (1924), ‘Margaret Perry’ (1924) both winning Royal Horticultural Society Awards of Merit.

Wallace produced two cultivars awarded AM that have survived the test of time ‘Luteola’ (circa 1900’s) and 1905 and ‘Golden Bell’ (1915)..

Mead produced one of the best known and enduring early hybrids ‘Hyperion’

Between 1892- 1934 the first hybrids day lilies with yellow, orange and fulvous coloured flowers were produced.

1934 The production of the first reds and pinks
Further introductions followed in the 20th century including H. fulva var rosea (1930) is a deep eyed variant of H. fulva var rosea “Rosalind” raised by Stout in 1924. These clones were the first pink coloured day lilies and the source of pink and red in day lily breeding. The first true red day lily was ‘Theron’ (1934) produced by Dr Stout and Charmaine (1930) was a break through in Pink Daylilies. Stout produced other reds in rapid succession including ‘Rajah’ (1935) and other seedlings were produced by other breeders

1930 the arrival of H. altissima and the Spider daylily story
H. altissima was first introduced as seed and plants in 1930 from China. Characteristically very tall, fragrance, late season flowering, and nocturnal habit. An early hybrid raised by Dr. Stout, had very narrow petals that were the precursor to the spider day lily, this was ‘Dreamlight’ a hybrid between H. altissima and Hyperion. Although the original plant was lost its characteristics survive in ‘Autumn Minaret’. The most famous early Spider was ‘Kindly Light’ of unrecorded parentage but probably with H. fulva var rose and ‘Hyperion’ in its parentage.


About cornucopiaalchemy

Dr. Andrew Ormerod has 14 years experience working as the Economic Botanist at the Eden Project - researching topical stories, artefacts, ethnobotanical inks, catering and retail links to exhibits. Previously I was involved with plant breeding and plant tissue culture working on a range of crops including winter cauliflowers, agricultural lupins, vining peas, wheat and barley and coconuts. I am now freelance and am interested in opportunities for lecturing; writing articles; consultancy linked to development of botanic gardens for crops based exhibits; supply chain work for unusual food or non-food crops with interesting stories about plants and people attached to them.
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