Narcissus, commonly known as daffodils or jonquils, flower in the spring in my zone from bulbs planted the previous fall. They are native to southwestern Europe and North Africa. From Wikipedia, “The species are native to meadows and woods in southwest Europe and North Africa with a center of diversity in the Western Mediterranean, particularly the Iberian peninsula. Both wild and cultivated plants have naturalised widely, and were introduced into the Far East prior to the tenth century. Narcissi tend to be long-lived bulbs, which propagate by division, but are also insect-pollinated.” It is generally accepted that there are about 50 species of narcissus, and another 60 known naturally occurring hybrids. Named narcissus hybrids number in the many thousands. The species daffodil Poeticus var. Recurvus pictured above is commonly known as Old Pheasant’s Eye. It is remarkably tolerant of wet soil. The delicate flowers bloom atop a grassy foliage usually 12″-15″ tall. It is sweetly fragrant, and very persistent. Planted in moisture retentive soil that has a decent percentage of organic material, it will increase and bloom for decades with little or no care. The flowers are diminutive and graceful; up close, the blooms are stunning.
The narcissus Poeticus does not remotely resemble the large brassy yellow trumpet flowered daffodil that is common in spring gardens throughout the US. From the Missouri Botanical Garden website (a plant reference I use frequently), “King Alfred was introduced in 1899 and quickly became recognized as the standard yellow trumpet daffodil. And it remained the standard until the 1950s when new yellow trumpet daffodils featuring larger flowers, better form and/or better performance became available. Since the 1950s, ‘King Alfred’ production from bulb growers has decreased rapidly to the point where this daffodil is not currently available in commerce today except through a very limited number of specialty nurseries. But the legendary name lives on. Most bulbs sold today as ‘King Alfred’ are not in fact ‘King Alfred’ but are large all-yellow look-alikes (such as ‘Dutch Master’) that are being marketed under the famous ‘King Alfred’ name by use of such descriptive labeling as “improved King Alfred” or “King Alfred type”.” In my opinion, bigger and more showy is not necessarily better. There are so many species and heirloom varieties of narcissus that are so much more beautiful in flower than the standard large yellow daffodil. The narcissus triandrus variety “Lemon Drops” pictured above was bred and introduced by Grant Mitch in 1956. The small nodding flowers are especially fragrant, and have a natural subtle beauty.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of spring flowering bulbs. Though planting those dormant brown orbs in the chill of the late fall is not my favorite garden activity, I truly enjoy how that planting creates a sense of anticipation for the spring. There is a wide range of spring flowering bulbs that are well worth planting, but I have a special affection for the narcissus. They are truly perennial when properly sited. They perform reliably. They increase over the years with little or no maintenance. I have clumps that have never been divided, that still bloom profusely. Deer want nothing to do with them. Narcissus Pink Silk is a descendant of that famed first “pink” daffodil Mrs. R.O. Backhouse, and was introduced in 1970. This heirloom daffodil is as lovely now as it was 45 years ago. There is nothing over bred or flashy about it.
Narcissus make fabulous and long lasting cut flowers, provided they are conditioned properly. The stems exude an irritating sap when cut. I condition them for at least 24 hours before arranged them with other flowers. I do deadhead my daffodils when they are done flowering, as I would rather that they expend their energy expanding their clump via the production of offsets than setting seed. The above pictured daffodil Dallas was bred in 1942, and is classed in division 3-daffodils with small cups. Daffodils are classed in 13 different categories, which relate to size, color and shape.
The species daffodil Moschatus pictured above is large flowered, but subtle in form and color. Many hybrid narcissus have this daffodil in its parentage. Famed American garden writer Louise Beebe Wilder called this her favorite daffodil: “The solitary pale nodding flower has an infinite appeal, a fragile tender grace that I think is not duplicated in the race….No more exquisite flower could be found for a cool, tended corner….Not to know this daffodil is to be poor in experience.” This photo by Becky Matthews was taken in rural Tennessee in March 2004. The species daffodils are more likely to “naturalize”, meaning the clumps will increase in size, and persist for many years. The fancier, newer hybrids may not perform as well over the long run.
I have more than a few large clumps of the daffodil Pink Passionale in my garden. Enough so that I can cut them and bring them indoors in the spring. This large cup variety was a favorite of garden writer Henry Mitchell. It is easy to see why. I brought a bouquet of them to Rob this past spring. That vase of flowers encouraged him to look into assembling a daffodil collection for Detroit Garden Works this fall. All of the varieties under discussion here are on his A list.
The narcissus jonquilla Sailboat features wind swept petals-thus the name. The jonquilla group features narcissus with multiple blooms on a stem that are quite fragrant. I am sure you are seeing by now how difficult is it to choose which daffodils to grow. Interested in the classification system for daffodils? daffodil classes
Rob’s list is long, but each one of these daffodils would make a fine addition to the spring garden. Forgive me all of these pictures, but once you take the time to study the available narcissus, it is easy to be taken by a plant that is so carefree and persistent in the landscape is so beautiful. W. P. Milner, here.
narcissus Bath’s Flame