Daffodil is the official common name for any plant that falls under the genus Narcissus, including jonquils, paperwhites, and Lent Lily. But most people use the term “daffodil” to refer to the familiar trumpet-shaped springtime blooms.
Thorp Perrow holds several ancient varieties in the historic ‘Springs Wood’ area of the Arboretum. The Daffodil Society found ‘Narcissus barrii conspicuous’ growing there, pre-dating 1869! We have over 65 varieties growing and all these beautiful perennials can be seen later this month in the Arboretum as part of our series of guided ‘Spring bulb trails’ running through till May.
Narcissus is a genus of predominantly spring perennial plants in the Amaryllidaceae family. Narcissus is a genus of perennial bulb, the plant dies back after flowering to an underground storage bulb, then regrows the following year. The flower stem and leaves form in the bulb, to emerge the following season. Several green or blue-green narrow leaves rise from the bulb and the plant stem usually bears a solitary flower, but occasionally a cluster of flowers. According to the Daffodil Data Bank there are at least 25 different daffodil species and up to 13,000 hybrids.
The name ‘daffodil’ was first recorded in 1538. Even earlier it was called ‘affodil’. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “The initial d has not been satisfactorily accounted for”.
The Narcissus gets its Latin name from the Greek word ‘to benumb’, this is in reference to the narcotic properties the plant holds.
The name Narcissus is also often linked to Greek mythology; Narcissus the vain hunter, son of the river God Cephissus, was known for his outrageous beauty. He became so obsessed with his reflection in the river that he lost his will to live, fell into the river and drowned. Legend tells us that a single Narcissus or Daffodil sprung up from exactly the spot where Narcissus fell.
Flower longevity varies by species and conditions, ranging from 5–20 days. Daffodils can be easily propagated by lifting and dividing when clumps become over crowded. They will set seed and propagate that way too, but Daffodil seeds can take years before the plant produces flowers.
The whole of the Daffodil plant is poisonous but especially the bulbs. Poisoning most often occurs when people mistake the bulbs for onions, eating as little as half a bulb has been known to cause an unpleasant stomach upset lasting a couple of days but, typically, the symptoms are not so serious as to need hospital treatment. Daffodils contain sap that’s often poisonous to other plants too so if you want to mix them with other flowers in a vase, soak them in water for 24 hours first to remove the sap. As with many poisonous plants in the right doses they can also be used medicinally. In Ancient Rome, daffodils were prized for their sap, which was thought to contain healing properties. Daffodil bulbs contain a compound called narciclasine, Scientists have discovered this substance may actually be effective in treating brain cancer, daffodils are also cultivated for pharmaceutical purposes as they contain galantamine (also found in the Snowdrop) which has been found to be effective in warding off symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The giving and receiving of Daffodils have many fascinating legends surrounding them; Legend has it that if you present someone with a single daffodil, bad luck may be on the horizon. But if you deliver a whole bunch of daffodils it is believed to ensure happiness to the recipient.
Poultry keepers thought the flower unlucky and would not allow it in the home as they believed it would stop their hens laying eggs or the eggs hatching.
But it’s not all doom and gloom;
Daffodils are also given as the official 10th wedding anniversary flower, the daffodil is used by Marie Curie Cancer Care to raise money on National Daffodil Day, they believe it symbolises new hope and life and in Feng Shui the belief is the flower brings good luck for the next twelve months if forced to bloom at New Year.
Our daffodil trail runs from mid-March to mid-April, so why not collect a map as you arrive, and follow Curator Faith’s trail through the Arboretum to see the best of the stunning collection and learn more fascinating facts about these quintessential springtime flowers.