Asphodel Family – Asphodelaceae

The family is named after the genus Asphodelus which includes several Asphodels that were associated by the Greeks with death and the underworld.  A typical example is the White Asphodel which is found in Greece and may, with its grey leaves and white flowers, have a ghostly appearance. 

The Asphodel family includes two main subfamilies. The first sub-family includes  Kniphofia and Eremurus. They are popular garden plants in Europe. 

kniphofia flowers

Red Hot Poker Kniphofia uvariaThis species, originally from South Africa, produces tall spikes of red flower buds that open to form orange/yellow tubular flowers. It was introduced to Britain by Francis Masson in the 1770s. He had been sent by Kew on a plant-hunting trip to South Africa. Long-tongued sunbirds pollinate the flowers in South Africa, attracted by nectar-secreting glands on the wall of the flower ovary but in the UK long-tongued bees and butterflies are the main  pollinators.

eremurus flowers

Eremurus (Desert Candles or Foxtail Lilies) are native to Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Over 60 species have been identified but most sold in the UK are hybrids such as the one shown here. The flowers are arranged on an upright spike which may reach 3m. Flowers open slowly, in sequence, from the bottom to the top. Pollinators include honeybees and bumblebees. Nectar is secreted by glands at the base of the superior ovary. 

The second sub-family includes the genus Hemerocallis – Daylilies. They are perennial plants that have flowers that last for 24 hrs only. They were introduced to Europe from China, Japan, Korea and Eastern Siberia during the 16th century. Over 60,000 different cultivars have been registered. There are 19 species from which the cultivars have been developed. The species are coloured orange, yellow and pink but breeders have produced hybrids that are red, purple and many other colours.  Flowers use a combination of scent and colour to attract pollinators and a reward of nectar secreted by the ovary wall at the base of a long flower tube.. 

Hemerocallis Day Lily

Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ is a cultivar introduced in 1959. Soon after the flower opens, the anthers cluster around the style and release pollen. The stigma at this stage is not receptive.

 

Hemerocallis Day Lily

Hemerocallis multiflora is a species endemic to China. In this photo the style has grown longer so that  the stigma at its tip is away from the anthers. At this point it becomes receptive . In this way self pollination is avoided. Pollinators initially are dusted with pollen as they try to reach the nectar but later visitors deposit pollen on the stigma.