Posts filed under: ‘daffodils‘

a flower by two names

i absolutely ADORE daffodils. they are by far my absolute favorite flower, and i wait for the start of spring every year to see them. although sometimes i cheat and grow them inside during the winter. (btw, paperwhites are the best variety for this) anyway, it’s pretty impossible to talk about daffodils without talking about the tale of Echo and Narcissus:

“Echo was a beautiful nymph, fond of the woods and hills, where she devoted herself to woodland sports. She was a favorite of Diana, and attended her in the chase. But Echo had one failing; she was fond of talking, and whether in chat or argument, would have the last word. One day Juno was seeking her husband, who, she had reason to fear, was amusing himself among the nymphs. Echo by her talk contrived to detain the goddess till the nymphs made their escape. When Juno discovered it, she passed sentence upon Echo in these words: “You shall forfeit the use of that tongue with which you have cheated me, except for that one purpose you are so fond of—reply. You shall still have the last word, but no power to speak first.”This nymph saw Narcissus, a beautiful youth, as he pursued the chase upon the mountains. She loved him and followed his footsteps. O how she longed to address him in the softest accents, and win him to converse! but it was not in her power. She waited with impatience for him to speak first, and had her answer ready. One day the youth, being separated from his companions, shouted aloud, “Who’s here?” Echo replied, “Here.” Narcissus looked around, but seeing no one called out, “Come.” Echo answered, “Come.” As no one came, Narcissus called again, “Why do you shun me?” Echo asked the same question. “Let us join one another,” said the youth. The maid answered with all her heart in the same words, and hastened to the spot, ready to throw her arms about his neck. He started back, exclaiming, “Hands off! I would rather die than you should have me!” “Have me,” said she; but it was all in vain. He left her, and she went to hide her blushes in the recesses of the woods. From that time forth she lived in caves and among mountain cliffs. Her form faded with grief, till at last all her flesh shrank away. Her bones were changed into rocks and there was nothing left of her but her voice. With that she is still ready to reply to any one who calls her, and keeps up her old habit of having the last word.Narcissus’s cruelty in this case was not the only instance. He shunned all the rest of the nymphs, as he had done poor Echo. One day a maiden who had in vain endeavored to attract him uttered a prayer that he might some time or other feel what it was to love and meet no return of affection. The avenging goddess heard and granted the prayer. There was a clear fountain, with water like silver, to which the shepherds never drove their flocks, nor the mountain goats resorted, nor any of the beasts of the forest; neither was it defaced with fallen leaves or branches; but the grass grew fresh around it, and the rocks sheltered it from the sun. Hither came one day the youth, fatigued with hunting, heated and thirsty. He stooped down to drink, and saw his own image in the water; he thought it was some beautiful water-spirit living in the fountain. He stood gazing with admiration at those bright eyes, those locks curled like the locks of Bacchus or Apollo, the rounded cheeks, the ivory neck, the parted lips, and the glow of health and exercise over all. He fell in love with himself. He brought his lips near to take a kiss; he plunged his arms in to embrace the beloved object. It fled at the touch, but returned again after a moment and renewed the fascination. He could not tear himself away; he lost all thought of food or rest, while he hovered over the brink of the fountain gazing upon his own image. He talked with the supposed spirit: “Why, beautiful being, do you shun me? Surely my face is not one to repel you. The nymphs love me, and you yourself look not indifferent upon me. When I stretch forth my arms you do the same; and you smile upon me and answer my beckonings with the like.” His tears fell into the water and disturbed the image. As he saw it depart, he exclaimed, “Stay, I entreat you! Let me at least gaze upon you, if I may not touch you.” With this, and much more of the same kind, he cherished the flame that consumed him, so that by degrees he lost his color, his vigor, and the beauty which formerly had so charmed the nymph Echo. She kept near him, however, and when he exclaimed, “Alas! alas!” she answered him with the same words. He pined away and died; and when his shade passed the Stygian river, it leaned over the boat to catch a look of itself in the waters. The nymphs mourned for him, especially the water-nymphs; and when they smote their breasts Echo smote hers also. They prepared a funeral pile and would have burned the body, but it was nowhere to be found; but in its place a flower, purple within, and surrounded with white leaves, which bears the name and preserves the memory of Narcissus.” (

of course one of my favorite paintings of the two is by John William Waterhouse (which btw, here is an excellent source for his


sadly, i forget what book i was reading that had a quote about echo that i loved. the gist of it was something like “how sad is it that echo could only look on as the man she loved only loved himself, and could never see her.” one day hopefully i’ll remember (or find) the source and the real quote.

here is an interesting discrepancy to note, the above myth details that “in its place a flower, purple within, and surrounded with white leaves, which bears the name and preserves the memory of Narcissus.” however, narcissus flowers are never to my knowledge purple. there are daffodils with pink coronas:


and green coronas:


but no purple. there is also no purple division in the ADS color classification.

  • W = White or whitish
  • G = Green
  • Y = Yellow
  • P = Pink
  • O = Orange
  • R = Red

in addition, daffodils are native to places like Spain, Portugal, and the Mediterranean. they were grown extensively by the Greeks and are naturally yellow all over. it could be possible that the Greeks cultivated a hybrid that doesn’t exist today as daffodils lost popularity for a while after 1600 or so and varieties are sure to have been lost. however, it is still unlikely that a variety with purple existed.

one of my favorites are Narcissus bulbocodium, aka petticoat daffodils:


the natural variety is relatively rare, for example only present in two US states.

i also love rip van winkle daffodils:


on to more technical matters; different types of daffodils:

daffodils fall into 13 horticultural divisions (see how many you can recognize!)

1: trumpet

1 trumpet

2: large-cupped

2 large cup

3: small-cupped

3 small cup

4: double

4 double

5: triandrus

5 triandrus

6: cyclamineus


7: jonquilla

7 jonquilla

8: tazetta

8 tazetta

9: poeticus

9 poeticus

10: bulbocodium

10 bulbocoduim

11a: split corona collar

11a split corona collar

11b: split corona papillon

11b split corona papillion

12: miscellaneous

13: wild hybrids and variants (the above are all garden cultivars)


Narcissushumilismauretanicus TAPEINANTHUS



Narcissus_serotinus5 native israel


Narcissus_broussonetii aurelia




(usually have a green base)




Narcissus jonquilla Pipit

(i love these!)


narcissus_watieri apodonthi


narcissus-pallidulus02 ganymedes







and wild hybrids:

Narcissus_intermedius2 natural hybrid

and oh my god, i want to go here:

Zakarpattya Valley 2


(i believe they are all narcissus, division 13)

Zakarpattya Valley, aka Valley of Narcissus, in Ukraine.

“in the Valley of Narcissi you will find yourself in a place detached from the everyday reality of today’s world and from the flow of time — flowers will fascinate your eye, and the chirping of insects will sooth your ear; the serenity of the blue sky will be above you, and the tranquility of fragrant herbs will envelop you.

But be careful — if you stay there for more than a half hour, the accumulated scent of thousands upon thousands of narcissi can make you dizzy. It is better to come to the Valley at some intervals. However, do not be afraid to come under the spell of the narcissus — open yourself the enigma of love the flower represents.

The French writer and Nobel Prize laureate Francois Moriac wrote, “To love means to see a miracle invisible to others.” What if the narcissus will see this miracle in you?”

while daffodils are often seen as good luck and bringers of spring they interestingly have a darker side. for example, daffodils were though to symbolize death if they wilted as you watched in medieval europe. maybe because chemicals in daffodil bulbs are poisonous and were even used by roman soldiers as a sort of ancient cyanide pill.  however, a chemical called galanthamine is present in the bulbs and is used in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. obviously, don’t go eating the bulbs if you want to cure Alzheimer’s because a) the other chemicals would kill you first and b) the chemical is not present in many cultivars, and is actually so expensive to extract that a synthetic version is being developed.

incidentally, if you hold a daffodil bulb too long your skin will begin to itch!

daffodils have a certain measure of duality which adds to their complex beauty. for example, if you give daffodils as a present remember that if you give only one it will bring misfortune however if you give more they will bring nothing but good. interestingly, Prince Charles is paid only one daffodil in rent for the Isles of Scilly…

i think after all of this, you can see why i love these complex little flowers so much!



Add a comment June 16, 2009






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