Although we gardeners know that hybrid cultivars won’t come true from seed, I must admit to still sowing daylily and Japanese iris anyway. Those plants generally produce blooms so showy that it doesn’t matter whether they resemble their parents or not. In addition to saving money, I enjoy the surprise element of not knowing what the flowers will turn out to be--and can feel smug about owning cultivars that nobody else in the world has!
Starting Daylilies from Seed
Actually, the species types of daylilies—such as lemon lily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) and ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva)—should come true from seed, as should "varieties" (indicated by two lowercase names separated by “var”). However, any iris or lily with a capitalized cultivar name, such as the ubiquitous 'Stella De Oro,' probably won’t.
Instead of planting the seeds from my own daylilies and irises, I often swap for other people’s seeds instead, so I’ll be sure to get something different than what I already have. Although I’m too lazy to make crosses myself, some daylily enthusiasts who do that are willing to trade extra seeds from their matings. I’m always happy to get those, since I figure the experts should know better than I which combinations are likely to turn out well.
Even if you don’t get around to hand-pollinating your daylilies, the bees will do that for you, though their crosses won't be as well thought out! You can find the resulting seeds in the chambered capsules at the tips of the stems, but don’t expect all of your plants to produce them.
Those pods will begin to split open when the seeds are ripe. They resemble shiny black berries, often slightly larger than 1/4 inch in length. As compared to iris seeds, daylily seeds are very easy to start. In late winter or early spring, simply sow them in damp seed-starting mix, covering them with about 1/8 inch of that mix. If you keep them warm, some may germinate within six days. You should be patient, though, as others may take considerably longer.
After you transplant those seedlings into a garden bed outdoors in early summer, you can expect them to flower the following year. If, like me, you often don’t get around to setting them out until late summer, you may need to wait a couple years to see blooms. The latest bunch I started mostly got "thinned" by our ducks when they were small. Of the three that survived, one was a plain yellow, while the other two were those pictured above.
Starting Japanese Irises from Seed
For Japanese irises (Iris ensata), I also swap for seeds and even ordered some from a seller in Japan once. Although they form inside chambered capsules similar to those of daylilies, the iris seeds are medium to dark brown, flattish, about 3/8 inch across, and can vary in shape from roughly round to triangular.
They require outdoor treatment. Those of you who do winter sowing simply can plant them in one of your gallon jugs. I usually sow mine 1/4-inch deep in a planting pack in mid-February, place that pack inside a transparent and lidded empty gallon ice cream box, and shove that container under a table on our porch. The seeds generally begin sprouting about 55 to 65 days after they were planted.
Be warned that irises grown from seed will require a longer period to mature than daylilies do. I think mine took about three years to bloom. Perhaps that is why there don’t seem to be as many enthusiasts crossing them! However, both the iris in the banner and the one pictured below were among those I grew from seed, so I consider them worth the wait.
Photos: All of the photos in the article are my own.