Native Daylilies

DaylilyQuestion: Are the daylilies I see growing along roadsides native plants? I live in Connecticut.

Answer: No. They are likely the daylily species Hemerocallis fulva, an orange-flowered species native to much of Asia. Hemerocallis fulva is commonly called tiger lily, roadside lily, outhouse lily, ditch lily and tawny daylily. It was introduced to North America most likely in the 1790s, as a garden plant. Stands of tiger lily often mark the sites of old homesteads. It was also used for erosion control; its thick tuberous roots do well to hold soil in place.

This daylily species quickly escaped from gardens to the wild. It has naturalized in 42 states. It spreads by 12-inch-long underground stems, or stolons, not by seed. Its network of stolons and roots make it difficult to fully dig out; any bit of root left in the ground can generate a new plant. It is now listed by a number of states as an invasive plant.

The hybrid daylilies sold at garden centers are clump forming and they set seed; they are not stoloniferous like tiger lily. You should not fear that they will take over your garden or escape into wild areas.

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7 thoughts on “Native Daylilies

  1. Unfortunately there are some mail-order catalog companies that over this common roadside daylily as ‘Native Daylily’ which it is not.

    Most members of Hemerocallus societies have no use for the roadside daylily while there are some of us who will admit that the roadside daylily does have it’s place – just not in our daylily gardens. As already noted it is good for erosion control on steep banks. It also can serve for a colorful when in bloom ground cover in sunny out of the way places where it is not desirable to have to maintain, cultivate, and care for plantings. The only thought needed is to remember that it can become invasive and consideration should be given to the posibility of it over running truly native plants that should be protected.

    As always ‘the right plant in the right place’.

  2. One of my most vivid memories is of a daylily-bud gathering expedition (!!) my Mom, one of our Beagles, and I took back in the early ’70′s to a gather these unopened buds for the frying pan at home. An extensive clump existed by an old barn by the crossroads of two gravel roads not far from my parents’ home in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, near Chestnut Mountain Lodge and Galena, Illinois. While we gathered some of the buds, the beagle locked herself in the car. Somehow we got back home with no further incident and enjoyed a delicious and different treat.

  3. In the South daylilies abound in the same areas Ms. Shinn describes. Because these types can only be propagated vegetatively, they are great indicators of old homesites. Many of the fulvas are singles. There are also a few that are double petaled. The double petaled variety is known as ‘kwanso’, and has been in cultivation by the Chinese for centuries. Thomas Jefferson writes about the importation of the daylilies as a potential food source (flowers are edible). Putting the 1790s date in the answer above right in his mid-life.

  4. As usual, the story is a bit more complicated: The tall orange daylily we see blooming in Zone 5 right now is a wonderful plant-hardy, colorful for almost a month, tall, self cleaning, and, did we mention, hugely easy to propagate/hard to get rid of. Almost everywhere you see it, it is an example of human intervention, often unintentional. It is also an example of triploid genetics, a mule. That is why it does not set seed and also why it is not appropriate to identify it as the species Hemerocallis fulva. It is very likely a hybrid and definitely has a variety name. Barbara Grenfel identifies it in her book on daylilies as “Europa.” The Chinese may have a slightly different opinion, but many of them think Magnolia grandiflora is a traditional Chinese garden subject.

    Meristem culture was not available when Europa was identified, but its ‘sprout from inch long roots’ propagation mode was almost as good. There are mutations that have also had serious commercial success before any of us were born: Two subtly different doubles, and a further mutation of one of them, with striped leaves. The biggest garden fault Europa displays is that the foliage goes down after the flowering finishes to wait for late summer rains. Perennial weeds and tree seedlings take considerable advantage of this. Clump forming warm season grasses are a successful distraction. Snowdrops will grow and bloom in the same bed, finishing their business before the Hemerocallis foliage gets serious.

    Yes, people who do not ordinarily give flowering plants much attention do call them tiger lilies, but it is more appropriate to save that description for another wildly successful propagator of a seriously different species, a true, if epidemiologicaly problematical, lily. We see it naturalized here in Indiana as well.

    • Hi, Jonathan — thank you very much for taking the time to provide this additional information on the proper identification of the roadside daylily as H. fulva ‘Europa’, its habits and history. We appreciate your knowledge and that you’ve shared it with us all!

    • Hi, Ray! This is yet another case of two entirely different plants sharing a common name. Yes, “tiger lilies” do have spots, when you’re referring to certain members of the genus Lilium. (A few different Lilium species are often called tiger lilies . . . just to add to the confusion.) However the name “tiger lily” is also used by some folks in some regions to describe the common roadside daylily.

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