. Daffodils for St David’s Day because daffodils are one of the Welsh national emblems.
Daffodils, also commonly known by their botanical name Narcissus, are thought to be named after Narcissus of Greek legend.
He was the handsome youth who scorned others as not being worthy of his affection.
The gods became angry with Narcissus for his cruelty and self-absorption; they cursed him, so that he when he crouched to drink from the river he became enamoured of his own reflection. So enamoured that he couldn’t leave his reflection, the object of his desire, he starved to death.
The Narcissus flower sprang from where he had lain.
There are between 30 and 60 different species, variously called Daffodil, Narcissus and Jonquil. These are split into thirteen divisions or types, including ‘trumpet’ which is perhaps the first one most of us think of when somebody says ‘daffodil’.
The bulbs are planted in the autumn to flower the following spring. Daffodils work well both naturalised in grass and used formally in containers, so are suitable for virtually any garden situation. Naturalising them is a fairly easy task and they will propagate themselves. The major problem is found after flowering, when the foliage needs to be left to die down as this is the critical stage in building up the bulb for the following year’s floral display. One solution is to plant the bulbs under a deciduous tree, or a corner of a lawn where it easy to avoid mowing.
However, these innocent looking Daffodils come under the category of poisonous plants. Their bulbs do look like onions – but please don’t muddle them up. All parts of the daffodil plant are toxic – especially the bulb. The toxins contained in daffodils are alkaloids; in particular lycorine in the bulb, which is more poisonous than the leaves and flower. Lycorine causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and although normally most people recover in a few hours or days, daffodil bulbs are potentially fatal in large doses.
If there any flower arrangers among you, you may be aware of the florists’ itch or skin hardening. This is caused by the irritant sap that daffodils can produce. Some cultivars are more likely to cause such irritation. Narcissus ‘Actaea’ for example, which is nevertheless an attractive white, scented poeticus type. Wearing gloves helps, obviously, but can make floral arrangement a tricky task. You may find that using calendula (marigold) cream as a protective barrier good helps.
On a more cheerful note, daffodils are often called harbingers or heralds of spring, bringing a lift to the spirits with their bright yellow trumpets. The German for daffodil is osterglocke or ‘Easter bell’: a pretty description. And many poets have written odes to this spring like flower. Not least, Robert Herrick, Sylvia Plath and of course, William Wordsworth . Although his sister Dorothy Wordsworth is credited with first noting in her diary the ‘host of golden daffodils’.
For more on daffodils, leeks, spring bulbs and spring garden design ideas, why not have a look at our eBook “In Your Spring Garden”?