Daffodils, Jonquils, Narcissus, Oh My!

For those of us who love flowers, it is hard to imagine anything more delightful than Daffodils. This sunny yellow flower trumpets the return of spring showing up in gardens, paintings, and poems. Its arrival promises to end gray winter days.  If they are not sprouting up in your garden, you may find bundles of closed buds appearing in markets in early March. We snatch them up to bring the promise of sunshine into our homes. They are for me an addiction, I am determined to see them open and believe in the season to soon follow.  The sweet scent entices me to close my eyes and think of green shoots, fertile soil and blue skies. Addiction may be the right word as “Victorians once thought the scent of daffodils to be as dangerous as any narcotic.” (Kingsbury) We truly can be made to be fearful of anything.

Gibbs Gardens, GA

I recently traveled to Atlanta, GA and drove north to Gibbs Gardens to view the largest display of daffodils in North America. In preparation for the chance to see such a display, I devoured the book Daffodil, The remarkable story of the world’s most popular spring flower by Noel Kingsbury and photographer Jo Whitworth.  I was surprised to learn that Ramses II, one of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, was buried with daffodil bulbs placed on his eyes. The daffodil as a symbol of rebirth was established long ago. While the history of the tulip is connected to the Turks and the eventual tulip fever in the Netherlands, the Daffodil (also traveling with the nomadic Turks) came to a fever pitch of excitement in England.  I’ve long understood the movement of seeds was propelled by wind, water, and wing, however, the daffodil bulb i.e., seed, really traveled in the pockets of traders and plant lovers.

Leeds Castle grounds in early spring

The distinctive thing about daffodils is that given the correct climate (a cool moist winter and a rain sprinkled-spring) they live happily without human intervention and care, reappearing in spring, reproducing underground, and disappearing after the show. Then they rest unseen until they return the following year. 

Leeds Castle, Kent, England

The English climate fit the bill, and as the English empire set out conquering the world, the daffodil bulbs traveled along to Australia, New Zealand, and North America.  All of Europe embraced the blooms and Christianity included the symbolism of rebirth into their ceremony.

Single Blooms, Daffodil Varieties

While Daffodils can sweeten the hills of woodlands on their own, gardeners and plant breeders rushed in to improve things and I like the results. While my earliest memories of flowers are of bright yellow daffodils lining the path to my grandmother’s door, today I am fascinated by the variety of colors, the twists of the petals, (sepals) and the different sizes of the cup (trumpet) that can be grown today.

Double, Triple trumpets

Kingsbury writes that “Depending on which botanist you talk to, there are between 40 and 200 different daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and over 25,000 registered cultivars.”  And if you are thinking I must be using the term Daffodil incorrectly it is a puzzle as all Daffodils are narcissus, but all narcissus are not daffodils. And then usually someone wants to throw in the designation of Jonquils. 

I love this color combination

When you are walking in the woods on a breezy spring day looking at the single blooms on a stem or multiple blooms on a stem in shades of yellow, orange, apricot, pink, or cream all surrounded by the same strap style leaves, unless you are a judge of the Daffodil Society, the pleasure is what matters.

Multiple Blooms on one stem

The magical power of the bulbs keeps the flowers growing almost indefinitely.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, GA

In the Victorian section of the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA the daffodils bloom on 150-year-old graves. 

Nooroo Garden, Australia

In the Blue Mountains of Australia, the daffodils march down the hills of the woodlands before the trees begin to bud. Spring here is in November.

The Welsh celebrate St. David’s Day on March 1st with leeks and daffodils.

The Daffodil Project began in 2010 with the goal of planting 1.5 million daffodils in memory of the children who died in the Holocaust. “The shape and color of the daffodils represent the Yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. Yellow is the color of remembrance. Daffodils represent our poignant hope for the future. They are resilient and return with a burst of color each Spring, signifying hope, renewal and beauty.”

Winterthur Garden, Delaware

In North America, the daffodils sprout in gardens, both large and small.

In my Arizona garden, daffodils don’t flourish, I can buy the bulbs, chill them in my refrigerator for six weeks, plant them in October and enjoy them for one spring.  My climate isn’t where they belong. Not that my spring lacks for sunny yellow blooms in other flowers. But I’m grateful I can buy daffodils in bundles to bring them into my home though the variety for sale is limited to the bright yellow and the paperwhites.  So as long as I am able I will seek out spring in a land of daffodils looking into their faces to see the sun.

Things to Know

  • American Daffodil Society maintains standards and registration of some 27,000 cultivars
  • Daffodils and narcissus are considered synonyms by gardeners. 
  • Narcissus is the genus
  • Daffodil is, for most, the yellow trumpet shape single flower on a stem. 
  • Jonquil is in reference to the “rush” style leaves and is Spanish in origin.
  • Daffodillys is another fun name but it failed to catch on. 
  • There really was a King Alfred, a variety named for him, the large (22-24” tall) variety with the defined trumpet shape and deep yellow color, has been lost over time though similar varieties stand in its place. (gardeningguides.com)

7 thoughts on “Daffodils, Jonquils, Narcissus, Oh My!”

  1. Hi Linda!

    Sharron here from Itowa Lodge Nelson, NZ …down the road from us and near school, there is a wide median strip on the road that faithfully gives rise to hundreds of daffodills every spring…only trouble is that the local kids pick them and sell them off in bunches…!
    I think the Council turns bit of a blind eye to this practice, but the lake of flowers are stunning, especially to passing motorists and walkers who can also enjoy their heady perfume! A joy to look forward to

  2. Hi Linda, Really enjoyed your article & in about a week we’ll head to WI & MA so will fortunately see Spring in what I consider the more natural place for Daffies. As I child I grew up with a circle of ‘Pheasant Eyes’ surrounding a Mountain Laurel.
    ‘Peeping Toms’ at the edge of the woods is my “Hello” in MA.
    Perhaps Euphorbia rigida gives me that Happy Spring feeling as it flows down a slope here in Arizona.

  3. Hi, Linda,

    Daffodils remind be of spring in Tennessee and Massachusetts. One of my favorite place is the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in MA, where many thousands of blossoms can be enjoyed in the spring – actually about a few weeks from now.

  4. What a great story about the daffodil. I love seeing them every spring and it was one of the last things my father wanted to go look at before passing on. It is a treasure in my heart. Thanks Linda

  5. Whoa! Did not know there is a scent for daffodils. Now I’ll pay attention but I’m a little late for the Trader Joe bouquets I buy.

  6. As usual, your blog was delightful, informative and insightful. As you said, “We truly can be made to be fearful of anything.” Unfortunately.

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