Daylilies are native to the Far East - China, Japan, Korea and Eastern Siberia. They have grown there for centuries, both in the wild and as a cultivated plant. The earliest uses were as an edible plant, with claims for medicinal qualities, and then eventually for ornamental purposes.
These original daylilies, Hemerocallis fulva, are still with us today. Known as ditch lily, tawny lily, homestead lily and a variety of other names, these primarily orange flowered plants are perhaps the best known of this species. They made their way from the Far East, through Europe, and eventually to the New World.
Around the start of the twentieth century, botanists began to experiment with hybridizing the native daylilies. Though most were of the orange variety, yellow and reddish varieties were discovered in isolated locations, and incorporated into the growing gene pool. The experiments by these early hybridizers showed that the color, patterning and form of the daylily could be altered, and opened the door for the tremendous variety available now.
In 1955, the American Hemerocallis Society was selected by the International Horticultural Conference to serve as the International Registry for all daylily cultivars. From its modest beginnings, there are now more than 56,000 registered daylilies, available in virtually every color, hue and tint. Although there is still no true blue daylily, bluish hues are beginning to appear, and it may be only a matter of time and good fortune.
History is still being written.
For more in depth discussion of the history of this fascinating plant, we recommend:
Hemerocallis, The Daylily by R.W. Munson Jr.
A Passion for Daylilies by Sydney Eddison