had a great name, and also revolutionized our thinking about day lilies. Never thought much about Hemerocallis? The name Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words for “day” and “beautiful”.
Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance. John Ruskin wrote that. I don’t believe that peacocks are useless however; nor are day lilies. I have been walking past a beautifully planted border of day lilies for the past month at Ellis Island, where the flowers are as diverse as the multitudes of immigrants that passed through over the years 1892 through 1954, when the facility closed. I get the feeling that many visitors just hustle past them every day in a rush to find their ancestors on the Wall of Honor, or to get a quick sandwich in the café before jumping on a ferry to Liberty Island. Everyone is in such a hurry, even on vacation.
Tens of thousands of cultivars exist. Arlow Stout alone produced over one hundred Hemerocallis hybrids, reawakening popular interest in the flower, which was introduced to America by European settlers—probably brought from Asia along the silk roads. By the 1800s they were naturalized in the U.S., and still what is called the “tawny” variety can be found springing up by the roadsides all over the country. Ancient Chinese paintings depict glowing orange day lilies.
It’s not actually a lily.
In the department of Harumphh: in 2009, under the APG III system, day lilies were removed from the family Liliaceae and assigned to the family Xanthorrhoeaceae, subfamily Hemerocallidoideae. Xanthorrhoeaceae was renamed in 2016 to Asphodelaceae in the APG IV system. Will someone wake me up when this is all sorted out?
Growing on long stems called scapes, flowers bloom for one day each. You can gather them, eat them, press them, present them to people you love. Hybridizers like our friend Stout like to fool around with properties like height or scent, ruffled edges, putting contrasting “eyes” in the center of a bloom, or creating an illusion of glitter called “diamond dust.”
Sylvia Plath also wrote about them, in a poem from 1962 called “Crossing the Water.” Stars open among the lilies./Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?/This is the silence of astounded souls.
But we don’t need such a hard sell. Their season is almost over. Go out and be agog over one, before their beauty sleep ’til next year.