Lemon lilies (Hemerocallis flava) are planted in my garden anywhere I can sniff their heavenly fragrance.
Some are on either side of our front steps. Some are tucked by our porch, where they soon will mingle with the scents of the old mock orange (Philadelphus) and climbing Hall’s honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’). As an aside, the latter isn’t classed as invasive in Toronto, though I can see its tendencies.
I knew the lemon lily was a species daylily, many-times-great-grandparent of a great number of today’s scented daylilies. However, I didn’t realize how long it has been in cultivation, or by how many names it was known.
According to the site Hemerocallis species, these names range from H. flava to H. lilioasphodelus and Liliosphodelus luteus liliflorus. The last (or, technically, first) name in that list was given by Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens in his definitive herbal reference that was the hot garden book of 1554.
To put that into context, in 1553 Henry VIII’s daughter Mary became Queen of England; in 1555, Michelangelo unveiled the Pietà. That’s a long time for a flower to stick around in its unhybridized form.
Now, what about the “asphodel” that shows up in some of its names? The asphodel is a flower in itself, and in Greek mythology represents the flower of the underworld, sacred to Persephone. I’m not sure what such a cheery, sweet-smelling flower has to do with the gates to Hades. I see a clearer relationship to the fact that “asphodelus” is often cited in dictionaries as the root for the origins of the name for another cheery yellow flower: daffodil.
All stuff on which to ponder as you sniff. By any other name, or names, the lemon lily would smell as sweet.
But there’s another reason to have them by my front steps. This afternoon, I watched from my desk as our youngest daughter bent over them when she came home from school — then deadheaded the spent blooms, unprompted. Who’da thunk it?