Extension Educator, Horticulture
At the risk of sounding a bit "oprahesque,"I have come to cherish those folks in this world who have found their passion. Dr. Branch of Piper City, Illinois is one of those folks. As if 44 years as a general practitioner wasn't enough, he also spent fifty years hybridizing daylilies. At 93 years old, he still speaks with passion about each one of his babies, plant and human. He was responsible for introducing 200 some daylily cultivars and 1,000 some human babies, including some award winners in both.
He won the Stout Silver Medal in 1972 for his lovely yellow daylily cultivar, 'Hortensia.' The Stout Medal is the highest award a cultivar can receive. It is named for Dr. Arlow Burdette Stout, who is considered to be the father of modern daylily breeding in North America.
According to Dr. Branch, hybridizing is just like genealogy with keeping records of several generations. Sometimes you get lucky and you get something worthwhile in a few years. Sometimes it may take years or some lines may never produce anything of quality, with daylilies that is.
Hybridizing is taking the pollen of one plant and crossing it to the flower of another, waiting for the seeds to ripen then planting the seeds and watching them grow. Patience and attention to detail. Hybridizer and physician—what perfect synergy.
Dr. Branch started hybridizing daylilies in the 1950's. He loved to fish but felt he needed a hobby where he could stay close to the phone to be accessible to his patients in those pre-cell phone and pre-pager days. His lovely, devoted wife said they even had a phone across the street at the display garden.
It is not hard to see why people might fall in love with daylilies. They are one of the easiest and most versatile perennial flowers to grow. When all other traces of farmhouses have vanished, the daylilies once loved as the sign of summer are still blooming in the ditchbanks. Daylilies tolerate most soil types, are drought resistant, require little maintenance and have few insects and diseases. Even Japanese beetles don't seem to like them. They grow in some shade, but flowering is better in eight hours or more of sun. They can get a few fungal leaf diseases, but I usually just trim off the leaves and let them regrow.
Daylilies are available in many colors beyond the old orange, red and yellow. They also come in a variety of flower shapes and sizes and plant sizes. Thanks to people like Dr. Branch, we have colors ranging from near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, vivid reds, crimson, purple and almost a true-blue. Many have different colored throats at deep contrast to the petals. Flower sizes vary from 3 inches to over 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Although individual flowers last only a day, each plant has many flower stalks and many flowers on a single stalk so the bloom period will be several weeks. Plant sizes vary from 6 to 36 inches tall.
Depending on the cultivar, the daylily may bloom in late spring to fall. Some bloom more than one time during a single season. As you can see, variety is the spice of daylilies.
For more information on daylilies go to www.daylily.com. Locally check out Newbury Daylilies at 5909 N. High Cross Road in Urbana (217) 352-7449. To determine Dr. Branch's daylilies, look for his name after the cultivar name. Many of his cultivars start with the name Smuggler or Lunar, such as 'Smugglers Temptation' or 'Lunar Haze.' Oh by the way, Dr. Branch at 93 still does all his mowing, all 5 1/2 hours of it. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Though an old man, I am but a young gardener."