When driving the country roads in Connecticut during the month of July, it’s hard to miss the cheerful clumps of orange daylilies that punctuate the roadside banks and ditches with masses of orange blooms. An Asian species imported by traders, Hemerocallis fulva was established in the Mediterranean by the 16th century. In colonial America, ornamental plants were a rarity in a country where survival was still a serious consideration, but the daylily, along with lilac and peony, was among the few luxuries the colonists allowed themselves.
As far as weeds go, the Tawny Daylily is pretty well behaved. Vigorous but not invasive, this tough plant grows best in rich, damp, gravelly soil, with full sun or partial shade. It endures winter salt and summer drought, and has thrived for at least two centuries despite the fact that it does not produce viable seed. The late Dr. Lawrence Crockett of The City College of New York speculated that carriage wheels picked up pieces of rhizome on muddy unpaved roads and dropped them elsewhere, thereby distributing the plant far and wide.
Daylilies, members of the genus Hemerocallis (“beauty for a day”), have flowers that open in the morning, lasting only one day. Because of the numerous flower buds on each stem and multiple stems per clump, plants will stay in bloom for several weeks. Tawny daylily is a hybrid species. On the rare occasion that seed is produced, it is reliably sterile. The plant has been successful nonetheless, spreading only by rhizomes and tuberous roots.
Flower buds of daylily have been a food for the Chinese since ancient times, and the roots are used in traditional medicine for conditions of the liver. The roots and rhizomes can also be cooked and eaten. Young shoots of the plant should be avoided however; they can be hallucinogenic if consumed in quantity.
Tawny Daylily is considered an invasive weed in some areas. A press release from American Hemerocallis Society states: “Several state and agency publications and websites list Hemerocallis fulva as an invasive species. Unfortunately there appears to be some confusion in properly identifying the rhizomatous H. fulva species and setting it apart from the non-invasive, clump forming hybrid daylily cultivars. To lessen the confusion, The American Hemerocallis Society encourages use of the following definitions to clarify the difference between H. fulva species and the hybrid daylily cultivars which are excellent garden plants: Invasive Species: Hemerocallis fulva (Common names: Fulva, Tawny Daylily, Common Orange Daylily, Roadside Ditch Lily, and Tiger Lily). H. fulva is an infertile triploid daylily which does not set seed but does spread by rhizomes. If left unattended it can form large colonies over time. Alternatives: Alternatives include any of the thousands of commercially available hybrid daylily cultivars which are clump forming and non-invasive.”
Although native plant purists may be inclined to disagree, this naturalized alien has found a home for itself here, and each year in July it shows its appreciation.