Monday, May 28, 2012

The Superman of the flower world

Species name: Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus

Common name: Daylily

Location: Ontario

This species of daylily is native to China, Russia, Slovenia and Italy, and was one of the very first of the genus Hemerocallis that was used for hybridization and domestication into its thousands of current cultivars. Many species of this genus have the ability to become invasive (such as the Tiger Lily, which many people think is a native North American wildflower), but to my knowledge this is not one of them. One of the qualities of daylilies that makes them not only attractive to gardeners but also very successful in a non-cultivated setting is their ability to withstand many different growing conditions. They can tolerate extreme cold during dormancy periods, and can tolerate extreme heat and dryness during the growing season. Some species can also tolerate periods of flooding, high winds, and frost. For this reason, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recognizes this plant as "successful" in hardiness zones 1-11, meaning from Alaska to Puerto Rico and Hawaii! Like Easter lilies, daylilies have three petals and three sepals, but because they're impossible to distinguish when the flower is mature we say there are six tepals.

Daylilies of all species and varieties are incredible potential learning tools when it comes to education about basic genetics. Most cultivars of daylily have the ability to hybridize, and there are quite a few gardeners that attempt every year to "create" their own cultivar by cross-breeding the daylilies in their back yards. I can imagine this being a great activity for kids in a school yard: plant some daylilies and have them grow until they are established (2 seasons at most), then set the kids out with paint brushes, plastic bags and different coloured string when the flowers are mature. Take the paint brush and rub it against the stamens to pick up pollen, then against the stigma to deposit the pollen. Put a plastic bag over the flower and secure with coloured string so you know what flower has been pollinated by who. Allow the fruit to start developing, then remove the plastic bag to let air circulate. Once the fruit is mature, open the pod to release the seeds, plant them in the ground and see what happens! I've heard of some people generating some really unique colour patterns as a result of "borrowing" pollen from daylilies around their neighbourhood and pollinating their own flowers. And who's going to miss a little pollen?!

Surprisingly enough, daylilies are actually a food source in China in some dishes that have become very popular in North America (and some I eat quite often!). The flowers, in China called gum jum or golden needles, are dried and used in hot and sour soup, Buddha's delight, and moo shu pork. There are some cultivars that have edible rhizomes, but others would irritate your stomach lining so it's best not to attempt to consume any of them. Despite this, historically the plant was used in a tea-like preparation to relieve stomach ache!