In the garden with Felder: Daylily among most popular plants in the world

August 10, 2019 9:53:31 PM



What do you think the most popular passalong garden plant might be, world-wide?


I'll give you a minute to think about it. But I'm not asking which one is sold the most, the one that people buy every year to plant, like tomatoes or marigolds. I'm wondering about the one most propagated and shared between gardeners.


Winnowing down the list of favorite plants shared amongst gardeners in any region is hard enough; by continent it's even dicier. To be in contention a plant has to surpass what I coined as the Passalong Triarchy: Attractive, durable, and share-able.



The most values a plant has, the more popular it will be to more people who will try to grow it in the first place. Some universal plant values include beauty, fragrance, long flowering, edible, attractive to pollinators, and historic; there are others, and the more the better.


Durable includes tolerant of a wide range of soils, temperatures, rainfall, and coddling. There are some awfully popular plants that are not easy to grow, which kicks them out of contention; the easier a plant is to grow without artificial life support, including freedom from major insects and diseases, the more people of different skill levels will grow it.


But no matter how popular or valuable a plant is, and regardless of its ability to be grown anywhere by anyone, if it isn't easy to share it won't go very far. Whether from seed, division, or rooted stems, a plant's being easy to propagate ensures its using humans like bumblebees to spread it far and wide.


Where this is coming from, is from having just submitted a manuscript to University Press of Mississippi about gardeners who grow everything they can get their hands on and gleefully share them with others. The book will feature several Determined Independent Gardeners (DIGrs), especially showcasing an inspiring man from the small town of Edwards who used to co-host my radio program, the nationally-recognized Emperor of DIGrs, who called himself Dr. Dirt.


In my travels I have met many gardeners like this and photographed and made notes of what all they grow. In the book, which should be out early next year, I have listed the most highly favored passalong plants all over the country, by region, and also those most popular in England where I spend part of every summer. So naturally I thought it'd be interesting to find the single most commonly shared plant on Earth.


Turns out to be one that some bored gardeners dislike, usually for its very prevalence. Of all the plants I have seen growing from Canada to Florida and across five continents, in every kind of garden from the finest manors and botanical gardens to humble cottage gardens and even in cemeteries, one beats 'em all: Hemerocallis fulva -- the common tawny daylily. The most popular forms are double-flowered Kwanso and triple flowered Flore Pleno which can have up to 18 petal-like tepals per flower!


Commonly called ditch or outhouse lily, the clump-forming perennial that spreads by shallow runners is a mule -- a sterile triploid, meaning it can't grow from seed; every single one you see is a part of the original plant, cultivated now for over three thousand years.


And on top of all that, all parts are edible; the flowers have the same vitamins as broccoli and are a lot easier to grow. To those lip-curlers who call it a weed, I say "If you can't beat it, eat it."


So, when you see that ancient ditch lily, understand that it is, hands-down, the World's Favorite. Like it or not.


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]