The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Orange Day Lily (Tawny Day lily)


Scientific Name
Hemerocallis fulva L.


Plant Family
Day Lily (Hemerocallidaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer to Late Summer Flowering



Orange Day Lily is the common day lily seen along roadsides and in old home gardens and sometimes referred to as the "ditch lily" and is the progenitor of numerous modern day lily cultivars. It is of Asiatic origin and is an escapee from cultivated gardens. It is a true day lily in that the flowers are only open for one day. Orange Day Lily is an introduced and naturalized erect perennial growing from 2 to 4 feet tall. The flowering stem is a 'scape' (an aerial stem rising directly from the root), green and smooth.

The leaves are strap-like, long and linear with a keel, pointed tip, sheathed base and all basal forming a cascading clump. There are no leaves on the scape, but there may be several small leafy bracts.

The inflorescence is terminal cluster of long stalked flowers (a cyme) atop the scape. The cluster can produce as many as 10 to 20 flowers, but only one open at a time. Branching occurs within the inflorescence, not below on the scape.

The flowers are 6-parted, from 2 to 4 inches wide, not fragrant and diurnal. Petals and sepals are combined into six yellow tepals with a tawny orange upper parts. The 3 outer tepals have smooth margins, the inner 3 have wavy margins. All have a reticulated vein pattern with a yellow central vein and all unite at their bases to form a short tube. All spread and flare outward when the flower opens. There are 6 stamens with orange-yellow filaments that curve upward from the base of the flower and are of unequal length. The anthers are yellow, turning darker as the pollen matures. The single style is white to yellowish with an indistinct 3-lobed stigma. It is much longer than the stamens and greatly exserted from the corolla.

Seed: Fertile flowers may form a 3-lobed cylindrical capsule, but the plants seldom form the seeds.

Toxic: Parts are toxic - see notes at bottom of page.


Habitat: Orange Day Lily grows from a rhizomatous root system and spreads vegatatively via the spreading rhizomes, not from a bulb like the true lilies. It is found along roadsides. woodland edges, riparian edges, and old gardens and can be quite invasive. It grows in a variety of soils but flowering will be much reduced if not in sun most of the day. Very dry conditions will shorten the flowering period.

Names: The genus Hemerocallis, is derived from two Greek words, hemeros, meaning 'day', and kallos, meaning 'beauty', referring the the beautiful flowers that only last one day. The species name, fulva, refers to the colors - deep yellow, orangish, or tawny. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.', refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. Botanists have made an effort to separate the genus Hemerocallis from the Lily family and have created a new segregate family, Hemerocallidaceae, with 13–18 genera. Many printed references may not yet note this.

Comparisons: A companion in appearance to H. fulva, is the Yellow Day Lily, H. lilioasphodelus. These two differ in that H. lilioasphodelus has fragrant flowers, with parallel venation of the yellow tepals, smooth margins on inner tepals and the species normally forms seed capsules. There is also a variation of Orange Day Lily that has doubled flowers that exists among the wild population. According to Flora of North America, this variation arises from a slightly different ancient garden selection - 'Kwanso' Regal. Gardeners know many of the clones of these species, currently over 13,000 named clones just from H. fulva itself and over 38,000 named cultivars from the Hemerocallis genus.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Flower detail Drawing

Above: The tawny flower - Detail of the 6 upward curving stamens in the pollen stage, and the single long style. Note the yellow base of the tepals and the reticulated veination. Illustration courtesy of Kurt Stüber's Online Library.

Below: A stand of Orange Day Lily blooming in the first half of July. Note that the inner tepals have wavy edges and outer 3 have smooth margins and all with the yellow mid-vein.

Orange Daylily Orange Daylily

Below: 1st photo - The leaves are all basal and form a cascading clump. 2nd photo - A doubled version of the flower is frequently seen in old gardens (origin explained above) and sometimes found escaped to nearby roadways and vacant areas.

leaves double flower

Below: The root system is rhizomatous. The round structures are fleshy storage organs.

Root system
Orange Daylily


Notes: Orange Day Lily was planted in the Garden on July 23, 1947 by Curator Martha Crone and was listed on her 1951 Garden Census. This was just 3 years after the Upland Garden land was added to the Wildflower Garden. It is widely naturalized in the United States and in a number of counties on east side of Minnesota. Since it is primarily an introduced garden ornamental the MN DNR does not report county populations. Originally introduced into Europe from Asia, it reached North America in the 17th century.

Toxicity: Most parts of the plants are considered edible if properly prepared. The rhizomes especially have been used since ancient times, chopped and cooked like potatoes or roasted, as are the flower buds. Roots must be properly cooked as they contain the neurotoxin Hemerocallin. However, the shoots, leaves, stalks, should be avoided as the chemicals therein can be hallucinogenic. If you are allowing these to grow or purposely growing them in your garden be advised that the white tailed deer like the flower buds very much. Otherwise they (and rabbits) do not bother the plants. A liquid deer repellent usually works.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.