1189 Hemerocallis fulvaCommon Names: orange daylily, tawny daylily, ditch lily, tiger daylily, tiger lily Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
The orange daylily, so common in old timey American gardens, back yards, abandoned home sites and even road shoulders, is (typically) a sterile triploid that spreads by underground stems called rhizomes. Pull up an H. fulva and you will see the fleshy rhizomes radiating out from the center like fat spokes on a wheel. Don’t confuse this aggressive invader with the more than 40,000 named cultivars of hybrid daylilies. The hybrid daylilies have corms instead of rhizomes and increase by enlarging their clump size rather than sending up new plants a short distance away.
The arching, straplike, semi-evergreen leaves of orange daylily are 12-30 in (30-75 cm) long, about an inch (2.5 cm) wide, and strongly keeled (almost bent in half), down their centers. Upright scapes to 3 ft (1 m) tall are branched and bear trumpet shaped flowers that are rusty orange-red and around 2-4 in (5-10 cm) across. The six tepals (petals and sepals that are very similar) are recurved and each is a little paler colored down its center. The strikingly showy (but not fragrant) flowers are borne all summer and autumn, opening in succession, 10-20 per scape, and each lasting only one day.
‘Europa’, by far the most common cultivar, is the sterile triploid described here. Some of the other cultivars and botanical varieties (there aren’t very many) may in fact be fertile diploids. ‘Flore Pleno’ has double flowers with red eyes borne on strong, erect stems. ‘Kwanzo Variegata’ is similar but has leaves with narrow white margins.
Hemerocallis fulva is native to Asia, presumably from Russia eastward to China, Korea and Japan. The orange daylily has escaped cultivation and become an invasive weed in many parts of the world. It can be found growing joyously around abandoned home sites, along roads, in river and stream floodplains, in waste places and in ditches in much of Europe, Ontario, Quebec, and most states in the U.S.
Light: Daylilies grow best in full sun, but can tolerate some light shade, although blooming will be reduced. Moisture: Daylilies need a moist but well drained soil. They should be watered during dry periods in spring and summer. Drought will reduce the number of flowers and the duration of the blooming period. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 10. Orange daylily should be mulched in winter in zones 3 and 4. The leaves are evergreen in warmer climates; not so where temperatures stay below freezing for days. Propagation: The orange day lily is a triploid and does not set viable seed. It is propagated by rhizomes which are basically underground stems. Orange daylilies will spread all by themselves, but you can break off pieces of rhizome to start new plants if you are in a hurry.
Orange daylilies are especially useful in borders and as ground covers. They have been planted for years around the house foundation, along the path down to the road, and around the outhouse. Among the easiest of cultivated plants to grow, orange daylily is perhaps too easy. It spreads aggressively and you must continually pull up wandering start-ups if you are to keep this daylily in bounds that you (not the daylily) choose. Pulled out of the ground and tossed aside, orange daylilies respond by re-rooting right where they land!
Several years ago I planted orange daylilies in a single row around my vegetable garden, just outside the fence that’s supposed to keep the armadillos and rabbits out. The daylilies keep spreading, and I am constantly pulling them out of the garden and mowing them where they spread out away from the fence into the lawn. But I’m not complaining. Pulling and mowing is not a big deal, and the flowers are still as beautiful as ever. With so many of my plantings never persisting at all, how can I begrudge one that is such a survivor?
Orange daylily, with its rapidly spreading rhizomes, is an excellent plant for erosion control, and has been used extensively on ditch banks and around retention ponds.
The rhizomes, young shoots, buds and flowers are cooked and eaten throughout much of the orange daylily’s native range in Asia, and also in parts of North America where the plant has been introduced. The tuberous rhizomes are usually cooked like potatoes and said to have a nutty flavor. The flowers can be sautéed like squash blossoms. In Asia, the flowers are dried and used as a flavoring in various dishes. The dried flowers are said to be a staple of Chinese cuisine, available wherever food is sold.
Hemerocallis fulva is reported to have numerous medicinal uses. The rhizome apparently has antimicrobial properties, and is used against parasitic worms. A tea made from the rhizomes is used as a diuretic, laxative and a sedative. The leaves have been used as a poultice for burns.
There are only about 15 species of Hemerocallis, all native to temperate Asia. Only a few of the true species are commonly cultivated. Hemerocallis fulva is one of several parents involved in creating the huge swarm of hybrid daylilies, now numbering more than 40,000 named cultivars, and still increasing by around a thousand new names each year.
The true lilies, including the hybrid lilies (Lilium spp.), resemble day lilies, but can be distinguished by having bulbs with overlapping scales rather than thick fleshy rhizomes; leaves that grow in whorls around the length of the flowering stem rather than strictly basal from ground level; and flowers that last longer than a single day.
Hemerocallis fulva is listed as an invasive species in DC, DE, IL, IN, MD, MI, PA, VA, WI, and WV. It can form large colonies and, under some conditions, exclude native plant species. Cultivation and sale of orange daylily may be prohibited in some places.
If you plan to eat the tubers, young shoots or flowers of orange daylily, be real sure you have the right plant. Eating hybrid daylilies can cause diarrhea and stomach ache.
Steve Christman 8/15/13