I just got back from an adventure in France and the Netherlands, so sorry I haven’t posted in a while. You’ll probably see some photos of the neat flora and fauna I saw there in the near future. It was great to be unplugged for a bit, but now I’m back at the blog!
About a month ago I visited ‘Les Jardins d’Emmarocalles” a garden in Quebec that showcases “les hemerocalles”. I knew that these were flowers, but I had no idea what kind. Once we arrived it became clear that ‘les hemerocalles’ are daylilies. We spent the afternoon picnicking among daylilies of all of shapes, sizes and colours. As you can imagine, there were bees everywhere! I overheard this conversation near a relatively inconspicuous orange daylily.
Bee: Boy, am I hungry! Which flower should I visit first? Decisions, decisions!
Day lily: Oh, oh, pick me, pick me!
B: No thanks. You’re a lily. I don’t like lilies.
D: Now, that’s not fair. I’m only distantly related to lilies. Just because we look the same doesn’t mean we’re related. It’s what’s inside that counts. I’m quite offended.
B: You’re sure you’re not a lily? I mean, humans even call you “Daylilies”
D: Who are you going to believe, me or some human? For ages they thought we belonged to Liliaceae, the Lily family. However, lately they finally figured out DNA and now I’m in a different family entirely, Hermerocallidoideae! So no, I’m not a lily!
B: Huh. Well if you’re not a lily, why do you look like one?
D: Let me give you an example. Sharks and dolphins have similar body shapes, but one’s a fish and the other is a mammal. When two living things develop the same body shape to do the same job, it’s called convergent evolution. For sharks and dolphins, it’s swimming quickly though the water. For me and lilies, it’s attracting pollinators. If there’s already a shape that works, why reinvent the wheel?
B: Okay, that makes sense. Wait a second, you’re a plant .You can’t move. How do you know about sharks and dolphins?
D: The neighbor across the road has a big screen TV and always watches Discovery channel.
B: Ah. Why are you called Daylily then if you’re not a lily?
D: Because my flowers only bloom for one day.
B: That doesn’t seem like the best way to get pollinated. If I’d missed you today, you’d be out of luck!
D: Not at all! Each flower only blooms for a day, but each of my flower stalks has 10-50 flower buds. I’ll be blooming for a long time yet! In fact, I’ll also bloom again in a month’s time. But pollination isn’t the be all end all. I have…other…ways of reproducing.
B: Yah? Do tell!
D: Instead of blubs, like true lilies, I have an underground root system that can spawn new plants. This is similar to what strawberries do. We like company, so we have a tendency of forming large clumps and taking over any place that we’re planted. We’re awesome and we know it.
B: I knew I’d seen you somewhere before! You’re that orange flower that blooms along the highway in the summer! There’s so many of you. You must be native to Canada, right?
D: Nope. We’re actually native to China, Korea and Japan.
B: Whoa, you’re a long way from home! What are you doing in Canada?
D: It’s kind of a long story.
B: Tell me, I love stories.
D: Okay, if you insist. The earliest reference to us comes from China in 2697 BC. At that time we had about 30 wild species, and we only came in red, orange and yellow. We were completely happy living in Asia, but humans had other ideas. In 1596 they brought us to England. Orange lilies like me were carried over to the US in the late 1800s. Pioneers liked us because we look beautiful without much fussing. We don’t get sick, we resist pests, and we’ll grow in almost any type of soil and climate, from Canada to California. All we need is some sun.
B: Okay, so how did you get from pioneer gardens to highway ditches?
D: We escaped! We’re so good at surviving in North America that we can grow and spread on our own. In fact, in some states we’re considered a noxious weed. That’s the price of success, I guess.
B: I guess so! So what species of daylily are you? You look…frillier…than the ones I see on the side of the road.
D: Goodness, humans have done so much breeding I don’t know what species I am anymore! In the early 1900 they decided they wanted bigger, brighter, and more colourful daylilies. And what humans want, humans generally get. Now we come in over 70,000 varieties, and in every colour of the rainbow except white and blue.
B: Wow, they must really like you!
D: Yup, I’m pretty popular. They like me in their gardens, but they don’t take advantage of my good looks in a bouquet. I don’t know why, because I’d be good at that. Is something wrong?
B: Sorry, I’m a little distracted. Your petals…they’re, they’re sparkling!
D: Yep, humans call this Diamond dusting. There are tiny crystals in our cells that make our petals sparkle! Only a few varieties have this trait. Pick me, I’m so fancy!
B: That aphid’s certainly picked you. Want me to brush her off?
D: Ewww, yes please! Interestingly enough, that species of aphid only feeds on daylilies. Aren’t we special? Slugs and snails also like to munch on our leaves.
B: Do you have other special characteristics?
D: Well, I happen to be a tetroploid.
B: A tetra-what-now?
D: It means I have four sets of chromosomes instead of just two. Originally daylilies had 22 chromosomes. In 1960s, breeders discovered they could double this number by treating us with colchicine, a chemical from a crocus. If a human had double the chromosomes, they would be in major trouble, but plants are special. For daylilies, the more DNA, the better! Daylilies with 44 chromosomes have larger, thicker petals and brighter colours. Nature is strange sometimes.
B: Indeed it is. Well, after that great story, it’s the least I can do to pollinate you.
D: Works every time!
A Great Visual daylily dictionary. Click each part to see detailed photos and definitions http://www.daylilies.org/ahs_dictionary/ImageMap.html