25 July 2012

There's Lilies and then there's Daylilies...

It's that time of year when daylilies are popping out everywhere, and sure as eggs are eggs, someone will innocently refer to them as 'lilies'. So I thought that it was time to have a quiet chat about some of the differences between the two families of flowering plants. 

Daylilies: Botanical name is Hemerocallis, which translates from the Greek to "beauty for a day". Which, coincidentally, is the length of time each individual flower on a plant lasts. There are a few different species of Hemerocallis, but thousands, and I do mean thousands, of named cultivars.

Lilies: Botanical name is Lilium. These are the true lilies. There are a number of different species of lilies, including Orientals, Asiatics, Martagon, and many others. But they're all true lilies. 

(Golden Stargazer, an Oriental lily, highly fragrant and gorgeous.)
Daylilies grow from thick, fleshy tubers or rhizomes. Here's a photo of some daylily roots. Each one holds one crown, or "fan" of daylily leaves.

True lilies grow from scaly bulbs. The above photo shows a typical lily bulb, with its fleshy scales. Roots grow out of the bottom of the bulb, while the new plant emerges from the growing tip. (from The Suburban Gardener's blog, a useful resource with lots of photos of different types of lilies).
Daylilies have grassy foliage. The flowers are held on sturdy stems called scapes, which emerge from the crown (growing point) of the plant. Each scape can hold many individual flowers, and some scapes are branched and have even more flowers. The first year or so of a daylily's life it may only have one or two scapes, but as the plants multiply they produce many more scapes and many more flowers. (This is a fancy variety called Spacecoast Gone Bulldogging', at Canning Daylily Gardens here in Canning, NS.
True lilies have a central stem with leaves arranged in a whorl all around the stem. The flowers are born at or near the top of that stem. (I've had this Asiatic lily for years and have no idea what its name is. Big, vigourous and deep pink, no scent of course).
At a place like Canning Daylily Gardens, you'll see hundreds of different varieties of daylilies, in a huge array of colours. It's a great place to go to get excited about growing these wonderful plants, which are quite easy to grow.

This is 'Luzia', a white Oriental lily, showing its cluster of buds arranged at the top of the plant. Some true lilies are dwarf and suited to growing in containers, while others are best grown in a garden setting. 

('Starman's Quest', one of my favourite daylilies. It is quite near another favourite, Timelord. Alas, there is no Tardis daylily, yet.)

The flowers of daylilies are edible and often used as garnishes or in salads. However, if you're a pet owner, please be aware that the aerial parts (the stamens and carpal, or the sexy bits) are moderately toxic to animals. That said, the entry on Hemerocallis in Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World is very brief.
This species of lily has been in my garden since before we bought the place, so I'm not certain of the species and don't know the variety at all. It's lovely, and a later-bloomer.)

The flowers of true lilies, however, are toxic in all their parts, especially to cats. I have a friend who very nearly lost one of her cats when it got pollen on its coat and, being a cat, groomed it off. While I grow all kinds of lilies and over a hundred different daylilies in my garden, I leave all of them outdoors to be enjoyed, and leave the cats indoors where they are safe. It just makes sense to me.

There, hopefully this brief primer will help people to understand why daylily enthusiasts correct those who refer to their plants as 'lilies.' Both families have plenty of amazing cultivars to choose from, but neither of them have true blue flowers. So maybe that's a project we can work on!

19 comments:

  1. Now I feel desperately uneducated. :) I did not know the two plants were that different. A great lesson and lovely splashes of colour!

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  2. Very informative, thanks Jodi. I'm lucky enough to be able to grow the wonderful Asiatic and Oriental Lilies, as well as Hemerocallis ... but it's the Daylilies that seem to thrive in the dry tropics conditions here. Lovely photos. I particularly loved 'Golden Stargazer'.

    Bush Bernie’s Blog

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  3. Nice post, Jodi! I'm feeling sad right now. I just vented about it in my post. Hope it rains soon...

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  4. Jodi, I always want to correct people who call my daylilies "lilies," but I don't want to come off as too schoolmarmish, so I think "Oh, let it go." But this was such a clear explanation of the differences, and in a friendly tone that didn't sound pedantic at all. Now I can just refer people to your blog when I need to. Thanks. :-) -Jean

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  5. I DO know the difference, regardless of my comment on your FB post. ;) That was a great post though showing the difference. I love the photos showing the differences. Now I will always refer to them as hemerocallises, or is that unnecessarily pedantic? :D

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  6. Great post, Jodi. So many people don't know the difference between lilies and daylilies. I'm a daylily lover and have never really warmed up to asiatic lilies. And now with the Japanese beetle being such a problem, I'm glad I've stuck to the old daylilies.

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  7. Great info Jodi...while I am tempted to say lilies even though I know they are not I bet I would confuse people.

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  8. Great informative post. I had no idea that lily pollen could be toxic to cats. Nice to know, since I have both cats, lilies, and day lilies. And I know this is late, but I really appreciated you including day lilies in your ten best perennials list. I love them, but many garden snobs look down on them. Thank you for giving them their due!

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  9. Timelord and no TARDIS ?!? How very sad. You and I know it would be the most beautiful shade of blue ...

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  10. Hi Jodi, Thanks for your visit and sweet support! We did receive 3/4" of rain last night. It was amazing how relieved I felt this morning. I know we could use a lot more, but it was truly a nice, nice happening. :-)

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  11. Jodi, thank you for the mention about lilies being toxic to cats. I never would have known about this and now will have to keep an eye out for wayward kitties who like to hide in the shade of the big lilies.

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  12. I love daylilies (Oriental lilies too) but I haven't had much luck with them this year. I planted some in our new island bed in early spring and they've leafed out but no blooms yet :-(

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  13. Great comparison. I have a small daylily farm in BC and so many people do not undertand the difference. Hopefully many will read your article and finally understand what a daylily really is. One gardener at a time! Great job.

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  14. Thanks for such a great informative post, Jodi. I've been a daylily enthusiast for several years, but have only recently appreciated the beauty of the true lilies and have added more of those to my garden. Asiatics, Orientals, Orienpets...it doesn't matter, I love them all!

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  15. Best wishes for a great event! I'm glad to hear you've had plenty of rain, and I hope the sun shines brightly on your day!Looking good.Kolkata Flowers

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  16. Thank you! I inherited orange daylilies in my garden and recently went to the garden store for pink ones, ended up with true lilies, and noticed the foliage was completely different. I thought they must be different species. Will the true lilies spread at all, like the daylilies?

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    1. Hi Jenny, it does depend on the species and variety, but yes, true lilies do multiply by creating new bulbs. Most good daylilies don't spread like those orange 'ditch lilies' that you have--the newer cultivars tend to form clumps, but not run. Good luck.

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  17. Hi Jody and thank you. I understand the difference a bit better now but am still wrangling over the difference other than bulb for daylilies and carpet border lily. Can you help me as I would love to plant some in my garden to hide my dying tulip leaves... Which should I use? I'm in zone 4b Canada so the tulip are just blooming end of May. I know, wow! right? lol... Will carpet border lilies start in early spring and last through summer or would I be looking at getting daylilies? Please help... thanks Josie

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    1. Hi Josie, I have no idea what carpet border lilies are. That seems to be a specific name from a specific company, but I can tell you--no true lily blooms all summer. You can get a long season of bloom with a variety of different cultivars (varieties), but that takes time and a lot of bulbs. (Oh, and don't feel bad--I have tulips blooming now, too.) Perhaps plant something with attractive foliage that comes up as the tulips are dying down, like ornamental grasses or astilbes, or heucheras or hostas.

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