DAYLILIES: WHAT IS THEIR MARKET POTENTIAL?
“If there’s one question that I’m continually asked,” says Angelo Cerchione, “it’s ‘What’s the market potential of the daylily?’ ” After serving the commercial realm for the last ten years as Executive Director of the All-American Daylily Selection Council (AADSC), he has some critical insights.
“In the latest Ohio State University survey, hostas and daylilies are first and second in popularity. What’s amazing about this is that the general gardening population has only just started buying daylilies. Thus far, it has absolutely no idea of the outer limits of performance or beauty to be found in the modern cultivar. Out of 13,000 daylily varieties in the market today, almost none have any name recognition to the public. In a survey a few years ago, only a handful of respondents even knew the names ‘Hyperion,’ ‘Aztec Gold’, or ‘Mary Todd’. In other words, this is virtually an untapped market!”
What changed the public’s awareness of named daylilies was the appearance of Stella de Oro. Registered in 1975 by Walter Jablonski, by 1985 it had been awarded the American Hemerocallis Society’s highest honor, the Stout Silver Medal. It is still the most widely recognized daylily among industry professionals. Conservative estimates put its sales for the past decade at 20 million. There are two revealing sides to that number. First, the sales of Stella only got rolling in a serious way in the late Eighties. Second, while its price has come down somewhat, the plant continues to be a very popular choice among buyers.
“Naturally, we were looking for a successor or a companion to Stella de Oro, says Cerchione. “Unfortunately, almost everything we tested that shared the same bloodlines as Stella never quite equaled the performance of their famous parent. Furthermore, hybridizers found it almost impossible to bring breakthroughs in color and beauty into their Stella dominated lines. In frustration, they began to call these look-alike offspring ‘little yellow critters.’ Some even believed that it was a genetic impossibility to alter the basic look of the flower and retain its performance.”
That changed when Jack Roberson registered Black Eyed Stella. He had achieved that “impossible” breakthrough. It took him ten years and thousands of crosses to add a rose-red eye zone to the dominant yellow-gold petal color and hold the re-blooming characteristic. He introduced his creation in 1994 as the first tested daylily to win the All-American Award. Needless to say, Jack Roberson is closely watching the sales performance trend line of Stella de Oro because of what it tells him about the potential sales lifetime of Black Eyed Stella. And with the “added value” of Black Eyed Stella being very heat tolerant, it gives a very hopeful forecast for nursery markets in the Deep South as well as the North. “I think that we’re at the beginning of a very long run with our baby,” says Jack. Stella de Oro looks like it’s going to give the Peace Rose (1945) a run for the longevity award. So does Black Eyed Stella.
INVESTING WISELY: DEFINE THE MARKET
To speak knowledgably about the daylily and invest wisely is to understand that there are basically two broad classes of daylilies: landscape and specimen. This is both a commercial as well as a genetic and horticultural distinction. If one is to invest wisely, an understanding of these differences is critical. For it is the stuff that increasingly is being told to the buying public and that public is becoming very savvy buyers of daylilies.
“Landscape daylilies are high-performance cultivars,” Cerchione points out. “These will yield long bloom periods that can individually run for 50% to 90% of the bloom season for all perennials in your area. What’s more, by selectively using combinations of earlies, mid-seasons and lates, you can extend bloom to cover 95% of the overall season. Planted in a well-designed garden, massed landscape daylilies will have a powerful impact on the viewer. Other benefits: high-density, attractive, long-lasting, weed-suppressing foliage; high fan increase or division rates that will usually rise above 1000% (i.e., plant one, get back 10).”
“Specimen or garden daylilies are most commonly used as accent or stand-alone plants. These high-impact cultivars are the most beautiful of the daylilies. By using selected, pre-tested cultivars you can have bloom for 30% to 50% of the overall bloom season in your area. I stress ‘selected and pre-tested’ because the average bloom period among the specimen is short, usually just 10% to 20% of the season. Also, their fan increase rates are lower (400% to 800%). That’s why these are the most difficult to bring into the mass market. Our ten-year test experience tells us that an All-American Award winner crop must be produced in massive numbers. We used to believe that a daylily needed a minimum fan increase rate of 300% to qualify as a commercial flower. Now, 600% to 800% is the basement number.”
“There’s no doubt in our minds that the marketplace needs both landscape and specimen daylilies. Unfortunately, potential award winners are hard to find. Based on our current rejection or attrition rate, out of 40,000 registered daylilies perhaps 200 will meet the commercial criteria for the mass market. Thus far, after 10 years, only one has qualified: Black Eyed Stella, which won in the landscape (performance) category.
INVEST WISELY: DEMAND PERFORMANCE VERIFICATION
Testing is key. Without multi-state trials, growers and gardeners alike will make costly investment mistakes. Today, there is no other daylily test program worldwide that approaches the level of sophistication of the AADSC. It is not the usual trial garden commonly known in the industry. The AADSC has screened or tested 6,000 daylilies at 20 (soon to be 30) sites located in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 to 10, stretching from Manitoba, Canada, to Naples, Florida.
The Council is capable of rank ordering, for example, all tested yellows in terms of performance. Soon, buyers will expect print and electronic media to display such ratings. Gardeners will come to avoid old-fashioned, fact-poor, simplistic advertisements (e.g. the 30-second TV spot). Research has shown that buyers want to read highly detailed accounts of plant performance. In this kind of a world it’s only a short time before price follows performance.
“If, for example, a reader discovers that two $5.00 look-alike daylilies differ in performance, which will he or she buy? The average daylily enjoys 21 days of bloom, a 300% fan increase rate, and an average daily bloom intensity (ADBI) of .4 (or one bloom per plant every two days). In contrast, its competitor may have a proven track record of 90 bloom days in Minnesota to 300 in California, a fan increase rate of 900% to 3,000%, and an ADBI of 2 to 16. Once informed, which one is the buyer apt to take home?” Cerchione asks rhetorically.
“And suppose that there were no television, newspapers, magazines, electronic bulletin boards, or Internet between you and the buyer. Suppose all that you could rely on was walk-in traffic. Would you want 21 days of bloom or 300 during the plant’s residence on your shelves? What’s more, fan increase rates have consequences for those trying to fill a display pot with scrawny or bushy first-year fans or landscapers trying to bring their newly planted sites into ‘instant’ maturity. Said simply, performance sells!”
MORE TO YOUR INVESTMENT THAN MEETS THE EYE!
“If one wishes to see where daylilies are going in the next century, look in on America’s almost 600 registered hybridizers,” urges Cerchione. “The new bloom faces being created are beyond belief.” Lamentably, they are not known to the general gardening public because they have such low fan increase rates. Changing that, however, is the recent trend to breed for both beauty and performance.
What is also not well known is how useful this perennial can be. “I think of them as the Swiss Army knife of the plant kingdom,” observes Cerchione. “What intrigues buyers are the solid utilitarian values of the plant. For example: (1) Fire Resistance – In California the idea of using non-fire-feeding plants in the fire-prone areas is under active employment. It’s called “firescaping” and is taken very seriously out there. (2) Salt Tolerance – Throughout the coastal zones of America, people are discovering that the daylily is salt tolerant. This is good news for places where salt-water flooding takes place, in areas that are lashed by salt-water spray, or where salt is used in winter to subdue snow and ice. Again, someone out there can be reached with a message that points up an excellent solution to gardening in soils with high salinity ratings. (3) Edible and Nutritious – Surprisingly, growers and nurseries are using the edibility of the daylily to attract buyers. If you’ve ever had sweet and sour soup, one of its main ingredients is gum jum or golden needles – other names for daylilies. It’s well known that the buds are higher in vitamins and proteins than most commonly eaten vegetables. Banking on the novelty of these facts, Phil Boucher of Tranquil Lake Nursery brought in Cathy Barash, author of the best seller: Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate, as a speaker for his open house. “The public and media’s response was overwhelming, gratifying, and profitable,” smiles Boucher. (4) Erosion Control – Bill Johnson, North Carolina’s Roadside Environmental Engineer, has stated that “daylilies are our plant of choice.” Beyond beauty, he cites its use as a valuable and cost-effective erosion control and soil stabilization mechanism. NCDOT’s positive experience led Governor James Hunt to proclaim 1995 as “the year of the daylily” in North Carolina. “What’s more,” says Cerchione, “state DOT’s are discovering that perennials are cheaper to maintain than grass. That’s revolutionary!”
It’s this mix of beauty, performance and wide utility that will keep the daylily from becoming a horticultural hoola-hoop. Daylily sales are second only to the hostas. As better and better cultivars and their accompanying performance verification profiles come into the marketplace, the public is in for some real excitement, and hosta sales may have to take a back seat. Stella de Oro has become a solid, matured investment. Black Eyed Stella has already shown a very robust investment track record and has years to run. And this is just the opening gun for a perennial that is becoming a hot garden staple.
For further information about the AADSC or Black Eyed Stella, please contact:
American Daylily & Perennials
PO Box 210
Grain Valley, MO 64029