Narcissus

COMMON NAME:  narcissus
GENUS:  Narcissus
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
daffodils-‘King Alfred,’ all yellow; ‘Mount Hood,’ white; ‘Pink Glory,’ white and pink.
Jonquils-‘Treuithian,’ pale yellow; ‘Suzy,’ yellow and orange-red. Other narcissi-‘Duke of Windsor,’ white petals and orange apricot cup; ‘Ice Follies,’ heavy bloomer that is white with a lemon yellow cup.

FAMILY:  Amaryllidaceae

TYPE:  perennial

BLOOMS:  spring

DESCRIPTION:

A daffodil is a narcissus with a trumpet that is as long or longer than the surrounding petals. The trumpet is usually flared and is often a different color or shade from the petals. Only one flower is found on a single stem. Other narcissi have shallow center cups or trumpets. Colors range from all the yellow tones and into pinks and oranges. Jonquils {N. jonquilla} have clusters of flowers, each with a shallow cup whose color contrasts with the petals.

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CULTIVATION:

Narcissi are hardy and easy to grow. They like the full or half-day sun but do almost as well in shady areas. Although they prefer rich, moist soil, they cannot tolerate standing water. Allow the foliage to die back naturally. Cut it too soon, and you will rob the bulb of essential food sources, and it might die. After the plants have flowered, top-dress the bulbs with a 5-10-5 fertilizer. Choose early, mid-season, and late-blooming varieties to extend the blooming season.

Greek mythology tells us how narcissus plants came to be: Echo was a mountain nymph who fell madly in love with a beautiful young man, Narcissus. Narcissus was a vain youth and cared for nothing but his own beauty. He spent all his time looking at his own reflection in a pool of water and spurned Echo’s love until she finally faded away, leaving nothing but her voice. The gods, angry with Narcissus because of his vanity, changed him into a flower who was destined always to sit by a pool nodding at his own reflection.
Similar versions of this myth occur in Rome, Arabia, Egypt, Spain, and Portugal.
Another Greek myth tells of Proserpina, who was kidnapped by the god Pluto while she was gathering lilies. As Pluto carried her to the underworld, she dropped the lilies; when they fell to the earth, they became daffodils, hanging their heads for her sorrow.
Mythology also suggests that Venus governs all daffodils except the yellow, and that belongs to Mars.
In the Orient, narcissus is known as the sacred lily of China. It is the symbol of purity and promise and is the floral emblem of the Chinese New Year.
The name daffodil has a hazy origin. It could, perhaps, come from the fact that Norman soldiers thought daffodils were similar to asphodel flowers {members of the Lily family}, and the name has changed from d’asphodel to daffodil. Another possible origin of the word is an old English word, affodyle, which means “that which comes early.”
Jonquil {the name of a favorite species} has a more precise beginning, for the native narcissus in Spain was called juncas, from the Latin word for a rush, since the leaves looked similar to rushes. The Spanish called it junquillo and the French, jonquille. The jump from that to the English jonquil was easy.

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N. jonquilla has been called Queen Anne’s jonquil because of this English queen’s love for this particular flower. She did excellent needlework and wove patterns of jonquil blossoms into tapestries, carpets, and dresses. It was her love of jonquils that inspired Queen Anne to establish Kensington Palace Gardens, the first public gardens in England.
Wild daffodils caused the first wildlife protective legislation in England. The flowers were so popular in the Stuart court that peasants and gypsies would go to the fields and pick them by the thousands to sell at court. This depletion of the native plant population caused a public protest, and laws were passed to protect the flowers.
Traditionally the first Sunday in April in England was “Daffodil Sunday,” and people would pick daffodils from their homes and surrounding fields to take to the hospitals in London.
Though narcissus bulbs are poisonous, they have been used medicinally for centuries. A doctor named Galen was a surgeon at the school of gladiators in Rome. His favorite salve to “glue together great wounds, cuts, and gashes” was the juice from narcissus bulbs. The bulbs are said to have been a standard bit of medication in the first-aid bags of Roman soldiers. European peasants would mix the juice with honey and apply it to cuts or swollen joints.
The word narcissus is from the Greek word narkeo, meaning “to be stupified,” and this alludes to the poisonous properties of the plant. The bulbs contain lycorcine which paralyzes the heart and numbs the nervous system.
Scientists are testing chemicals from narcissus bulbs as a possible treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Though no narcissus is native to North America, this has not hampered its popularity here. Every year millions of bulbs are bought and planted, and the blooms are sniffed and cherished by Americans all across the country. Superstition in Maine says that if you point at a daffodil with your index finger, you will cause it not to bloom.
In the Victorian language of flowers, a daffodil means regard, and the great yellow daffodil is the symbol of chivalry. Narcissus is the Chinese symbol of good fortune and the emblem of winter. In Japan, it is the symbol of mirth and joyousness and the emblem of formality.

The love of narcissus is ancient. Mohammed is said to have said, “Let him who hath two loaves sell one, and buy the flower of narcissus: for bread is but food for the body, whereas narcissus is food for the soul.”

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