Last time I discussed a familiar roadside plant here in Pennsylvania, brought with the settlers to make soap – Saponaria officinalis, soapwort. But alongside it we often find a very different, but equally robust perennial, from Asia this time, the double-flowered daylily Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Pleno’.
If it wasn’t for the vast variety of more recent daylily hybrids, this would be on everyone’s list of top perennials. With its long season of 6in/15cm double flowers, each a nest of ochre orange petals, the outer petals are broad and bold with a bright red flash, the inner ones narrower with a less dramatic mark.
This is a triploid plant, with an in between number of chromosomes, so it cannot set seed and this helps prolong its flowering season which is most of July, often starting in late June or extending into August depending on the local climate. It reaches about 3ft/90cm, is dependably self-supporting and unlike many daylilies spreads by stolons to make large patches.
‘Flore Pleno’ is also reckoned to be the top choice for cooking, deep frying in particular. I’m told that with so many more petals in its large flowers it makes much a more of a mouthful than the usual six petalled daylily. The tubers are also edible.
Hemerocallis fulva grows wild in many Chinese provinces as well as in India, Japan, Korea and Russia. ‘Flore Pleno’ was brought to Europe from Mauritius by the Reverend W. Ellis and passed to the influential British nursery Veitch & Sons some time before 1861. From there it came to North America where it flowered dependably with little or no care – as it does along roadsides
‘Flore Pleno’ is sometimes confused with another daylily, H. fulva ‘Kwanso’. Both are double, and both have orange flower with red marks on the petals. However, the most clear distinguishing feature is that ‘Flore Pleno’ has 15 to 18, strongly recurved petals usually arranged rather neatly, while ‘Kwanso’ has seven to twelve petals, often in a rather muddled-looking arrangement. Neither ever produced seed, although both have partially fertile pollen.
Daylily enthusiasts often look down on this plant because it’s less refined than modern hybrids, in a less surprising color and without the intricate patterning of so many recent introductions. But, if you like the color, and are looking for a summer perennial that you can plant and pretty much ignore then this is it.