Sunday, September 11, 2011

A daylily tale

I’m not a daylily person. I don’t travel in daylily circles, don’t attend daylily shows and don’t know by name any of the modern cultivars. And I can easily explain my indifference to the general run of daylilies: most of them have a squat habit of growth with scapes which lean. For the most part, the daylilies I do like have rigidly upright scapes, although I’ve long made an exception for Hemerocallis minor.

Yet there are typical daylilies with qualities I like, and there have always been daylilies in this garden. And one of these days I hope to have them in numbers.
Decades ago I acquired a copy of Arlow Stout's 1934 book Daylilies. It was there that I first learned of the extremely tall daylily he eventually (in the year I was born, 1943) named Hemerocallis altissima. For years I searched unsuccessfully for a source for this plant. Several imposters came and went, and I eventually began to wonder if the true plant still survived in cultivation. I grew two hybrids of this plant: the cultivars ‘Autumn Minaret’ and ‘Autumn Prince’. Of the two, I like ‘Autumn Prince’ better because to my eyes it has the economy of build which so often characterizes wild plants. ‘Autumn Minaret’ is taller and ganglier with flowers which have a twist or flare which to me says “poorly selected hybrid”.

Two weeks ago I acquired another plant under the name Hemerocallis altissima. And in the meantime I acquired a new perspective of these plants: Hemerocallis altissima is currently considered to be a synonym of H. citrina. These nomenclatural shifts are a reminder to those of us who tend to collect names that we should really be focused more on the plants. Whatever this new plant turns out to be, I expect to have what I’ve wanted all along: a very tall, yellow-flowered, night-blooming daylily.

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