In the Garden:
Middle South
July, 2010
Regional Report

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The vibrant red and yellow blooms of 'All American Chief' are spider-like, with elongated petals and sepals.

New Daylilies Strut Their Stuff

Daylilies, sometimes called the perfect perennial, are easy to grow, require little care, and can adapt to a wide range of soils and climates. Gardeners value them for their abundant flowers, knowing they can count on the clump-forming, herbaceous plants for weeks of vibrant color each summer. What they might not know, however, is that modern hybridizers are busy at work, creating color combos, patterns, and forms that were unimaginable just a generation ago.

Variations in color include those described as "self," with petals and sepals of the same color, "blend," with petals and sepals that are a mix of two colors (without distinct areas of separation), or "polychrome," with petals and sepals that are a blend of three or more colors. Additionally, a "bicolor" has petals and sepals of two individual colors, while a "bitone" has petals and sepals that are varying shades or intensity of the same color.

Flowers that display a different area of color between the throat and the tip of the petal or sepal are said to have an "eye," a "band," a "halo," or a "watermark," depending on the location, hue, and intensity of the zone. Color differences on the margins, tips, and midribs, as well as the evenness of color and the reflectivity of the flower's surface, are also distinguished with names, from "picoteed" to "diamond dusted," and many more.

Combine these color and pattern variables with the wide array of flower forms, plant sizes and bloom times, and you'll get an inkling of how many thousands, perhaps millions, of daylilies are in the works.

To see the process first hand, I visited a friend who enjoys the thrill of hybridizing daylilies in his home garden.

In the morning, after new flowers open but before 11 am when summer temperatures make fertilization unlikely, the stamen from a father plant is plucked and rubbed over the pistil of a mother plant. Seeds that develop from the cross will have characteristics of both parents, but each baby plant may be completely different from any other.

Sounds simple enough, right? However, some daylilies are diploid (with 22 chromosomes), while others are tetraploid (with 44 chromosomes), and you can only breed a "dip" with a "dip," and a "tet" with a "tet."

Weeks after fertilization, when the daylily scape begins to dry and the seedpod is mature, seeds are collected and stored in the refrigerator. The following spring, usually around the first of April, seeds are germinated and planted in trial beds.

When seedlings bloom, usually in their second growing season, a winnowing process begins. Plants with flowers offering the desired characteristics are kept for further evaluation, but most are discarded.

My friend, who breeds daylilies for large blooms with ruffled edges, has several named crosses to his credit. Other hybridizers are following their own fancy. Some are creating spider-like flowers with elongated petals and sepals, while others are pursuing unusual flower forms, such as those with crested midribs or petal-like stamens.

I've added several new types to my garden recently, including 'All American Chief,' an award winner that explodes with color. The plant blooms early to mid season with striking red and yellow, spider-like blooms, some measuring an unbelievable 10-inches across.

Truth be told, I'll never be able to give up the delightfully scented, old-fashioned lemon lilies, but I'm finding some of the new types equally irresistible. Take a look. Chances are you'll be smitten too.


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