(Back from vacation! Thanks for your patience, I needed the break. This first year of blogging has been very exciting and more tiring than I realized. Much was accomplished, and yet the Human Freedom Series needs to be finished; hopefully just several additional posts. This current post sets out in a very different direction, far more accessible, far more enjoyment. I hope it works for you! I apologize for some of the layout difficulties, some of them are just insurmountable. All Flower Photos are by me and taken from The Garden of Sheri and Greg — “our little nature preserve”. Thanks, GregWW)
The beautiful goddess of the day — hemerocallis — the daylily, is in bloom in central Ohio. Gracing the backyard with its ephemeral structure, each blossom lasts only a single unbroken span of daylight, yet, long enough to serve the plant’s purpose —fertilization and reproduction — and our purpose — delight and amazement.
This Backyard’s Variety
There are 19 species of Daylily, and the plant is native to Asia. The Orange was first brought to America in the 17th century from England and it, and several other varieties, became subject to intense breeding. There are now over 80,000 registered cultivars! Soon the original oranges escaped the gardens and populated roadsides and ditches. That plant is now considered an invasive species.
Ironically, the Daylily is not a true Lily, as are Easter, Asiatic or the Oriental lily. No longer considered part of the Lilium family the change occurred in 2009 due to genetic analysis. It is now classified as an ASPARAGUS — Aspragales! There is some structural similarities and this new classification is more consistent with the little known fact that the daylily can be eaten by humans and has been for possibly thousand of years!
The daylily flower stalk (right) resembles the flower stalk of an asparagus (left) in appearance and structure. The above is the stalk of a Tiger Lily which I ate this morning, raw, after finding out they were edible. Being a fan of raw and fresh asparagus, I found the consistency similar, but the more developed flower bud of the daylily was more leafy and lettuce-like upon eating than the asparagus and left a rather tangy, pepper-like, and pleasant aftertaste.
From the 6-7 inch wingspan of the above purple, to the 3-4 inch diameter of the above yellow-throated red, different daylily flowers vary greatly in size. Their flower stalks can range from almost knee-high to those of the Tiger Lily which often soar above much of the rest of the garden at and above 4 feet.
One of the great joys of the Hemerocallis is it dramatic settings of Pistil and Stamen.
These male and female parts flow from the throat of the flower with the pistil, the female part, always extending far beyond the male part, the stamen. The Stigma of the pistil is its extended tip. Here is where the pollen must land and almost literally take root. The stigma is sticky and the pollen that lands there then grows a Pollen Tube that must traverse the length of the pistil, called the Style, to the ovary and its egg deep in the throat at the base of the flower. The stigma is difficult to photograph, for me, due to its small size and luminous, glowing, surface.
Mother Nature, in the design of the daylily, has chosen to follow a rule not often duplicated in many other flowering plants. She, like the nuns at my Catholic grade school, has chosen to keep the boys and girls far apart at recess, in an effort to forestall any easy fertilization. The longest pistil in my garden was over 4 inches in length, running far ahead of the stamen.
The stamen are a different story; they are dramatic and easy to photograph among all the contrasting colors and shapes.
There are always 6 stamen, each composed of its Anther that tops its Filament. The anther is, of course, the pollen producing organ. and it often displays noted markings and can be loaded with yellow pollen grains .
Ruffles have been a characteristic sought and developed through Selective Breeding. A cultivar is a variety of plant developed through the efforts of human breeders. In the wild, Nature Selects the characteristics of living things — the process of natural selection — but as is true of so much around us now, humans select and design much of our own world (see post 5, “Advantages Within the Human Social Organism” in the Human Freedom Series). This is certainly true of the Hemerocallis, with its 80,000 cultivars! Ruffles, colors, sizes, bloom rate and repetition, all have been intelligently designed through breeding.
But Selective Breeding comes at a cost. It is through a brief description of the method that this cost may become evident.
A good Breeding Line of daylily will focus on a goal of enhancing a particular characteristic, say ruffles. The breeder will seek to enhance the depth, the color, the definition, along with the reliability of each offspring having that ruffle; along with diminished unfavorable traits.
This is accomplished through some out-crosses, but mostly inbreeding. A sibling-cross is the deliberate fertilization of a plant with the pollen of its sister/brother, in other words, plants with the same parent each with strong ruffles. A back-cross is a parent being fertilized by the pollen of one of its offspring displaying strong ruffles (or the offspring being fertilized by its parent’s pollen). This inbreeding is repeated many times to secure a strong line of breeders for that trait. The result can be a good breading line, but also sterility. These plants are no longer capable of reproducing sexually through seeds, but still capable of asexual reproduction through side-shoots.
The Life Cycle of the Daylily
The daylily starts to push its finger-like foliage from the soil in mid spring here in central Ohio. By time of flower bloom these leaves are about an inch wide, arching from the ground and then bending back ground-ward; their peak no higher than the knee but often lower.
By mid to later June, flower shoots begin to appear and rapidly stretch upward. Their increasing maturity is apparent day by day.
The blossom below (left) will open the following day. The flower below (right) is in the act of opening early after the sun has risen.
By later June, weather depending of course. flowers on some varieties will begin to open. Each stalk will contain 4 – 6 buds that hopefully, and usually, will open in succession. Total bloom time in central Ohio is about 4 – 5 weeks or from later June to about end of July.
But as stated, the run of a single blossom is only a day. The question now is “Has it been fertilized and will it set seed?” First, the wilted flower must be left on, no dead-heading if you want your lilies to go to seed. If all goes well, at the base of the flower a seed pod will begin to appear. It takes 40 – 60 days for that pod to mature at which point it will dry and begin to crack open.
Some experienced breeders contend Daylily seeds germinate better after experiencing a stretch of cold weather. They recommend seeds be put in the refrigerator for at least one month. Others contend that seeds can be put directly into the ground or a paper towel and kept moist till germination in about 1-2 weeks. I have no personal experience with this, but can happily report that the experiment is now under way in my backyard and refrigerator.
Reflecting Upon My Practice of Growing the Hemerocallis
As writing this blog, I began to think back on my own methods of growing Daylilies. As has been contended on this site, Self-Reflection is what separates we humans from the rest of the animal kingdom and poor plants are left even farther behind. I came upon several insights.
One of them was quite shocking. I had no seed pods on any of my daylilies! None. In our 12 patches, we had not a single pod. At first, I though about sterility, but then soon realized that it was our meticulous habit of dead-heading. Nothing inhibits the enjoyment of the day’s fresh bloom, like the wilted mess of yesterday’s expired beauty right next to it. Without allowing the faded flower, the seed pod cannot form.
As I began to think of this further, I felt some concern, maybe guilt, that our practice had so seriously disrupted Nature’s Cycle, Nature’s Goal. The flower’s Purpose is the sexual reproduction of this organism; its goal is to set seed and disperse them. Our goal, my goal, was their beauty. Our Aesthetic Experience had supervened to disrupt this cycle. Nature’s purpose had been superceded by our own!
I have now decided to cut back on dead-heading. I have started to allow some exhausted blossoms to remain and hopefully go to seed. Experts contend that approximately half will go into pod production given a good environment.
And this will allow me to start toying with breeding. Ironically, my realization of the disruption has now motivated me to further exert myself in shaping this organism. And this, too, is Nature’s Way. Long before human’s started to consciously breed plants (and animals), animals, including humans, Unconsciously Bred Plants. The rule of thumb, ‘Eat the fattest and sweetest’ — and other such reasonable impulses — has led to the alteration of most of the plants that we consume.
For example, the wild strawberry is minute. Natural apples are an inch in diameter. The wild almond is bitter and contains cyanide! The original banana held sizable and inedible seeds. The list goes on and on. And the effort of shaping plants to our use (and animal use, in general) started very early. Evidence indicates that Peas may have been one of the first domesticated, deliberately grown plants by 8000 B.C.; “olives by 4000 B.C., strawberries during the Middle Ages and pecans not until 1846″, says Jared Diamond in his wonderful book Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Goodbye to The Hemerocallis for This Year!
As I started this post, the daylily was starting to bloom; as I end it, they too are fading. August is upon us and only a few of the latest bloomers still thrive. This post is coming to an end also, and the effort to write it, and display all its photos, was far in excess of what I had anticipated. I learned much, and enjoyed much. I hope you did too.