Scientific Name: Narcissus spp.
Common Names: narcissus, daffodil
Plant Type: Best in organically rich, slightly acidic, medium moisture, well-drained sandy loams; full sun to part shade.
Bloom: Early spring. Flower of trumpet-shaped cup surrounded by 6 tepals, in colors ranging from white, yellow, orange, pink and sometimes bicolored. Sometimes fragrant.
Uses: Great for borders, in front shrubs, massed under trees and in open woodland gardens. Smaller varieties are great in rock gardens.
Other: Drought tolerant; gopher, deer, and rabbit resistant.
Great Meadow Bed 8;
Lawns surrounding Great Meadow Beds 9A & 13;
Heidelberg Hill Beds 28.
Rings and clusters of Narcissus were planted in fall 2016, in the exterior beds along Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and within the Garden in our Great Meadow and surrounding areas. While our magnificent magnolias remain mystified by changes in temperature and precipitation, both of which have likely contributed to a winter of fluctuations in flowering phase, our newly-planted daffodils have popped like clockwork.
With significantly less genetic diversity than our large collection of species magnolias, each cultivated variety ("cultivar") of daffodil planted in the Garden is clonal - all members of the cultivar are exact genetic replicas of each other. Assuming they had received uniform environmental conditions prior to fall planting in the Garden, we would expect them to exhibit this tight, unified response to their new environment. Planted en masse, this synced show can be stunning.
Narcissus is a genus of near 60 species, with many hybrids and selections. They are native to a broad region, from the Canary Islands to Northern Africa, the United Kingdom and Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and China and Japan, the latter two where Narcissus was likely introduced between 1300 and 1400 years ago. As Homo sapiens have proven to be, Narcissus are also a very adaptable group. They have successfully hitchhiked with us around the globe and have expanded their range and naturalized in India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and even the Falkland Islands off Argentina. As they are around the globe - even locally to the roadsides of I-280 near Palo Alto - Narcissus are also abundant in art and literature, from Van Gogh to Shakespeare.
Clearly, daffodils have a long history of appreciation. In Western Europe, documentation and widescale cultivation appears to have expanded significantly by the 16th Century. Today, in the United Kingdom alone, there are more than 13,000 acres of daffodils cultivated for the cut flower market. That's over 20 square miles of daffodils - more than 40% of the footprint of San Francisco! Over 10,000 cultivars exist today.
Similar to the flower of the magnolia, daffodil flowers also sport tepals - the collective term used to define flowers that are modified with showy petals and sepals. Daffodils are sometimes fragrant and, combined with their nectar and colorful flowers, are effective at drawing pollinators to do their reproductive bidding. Humans have found this fragrance desirable as well, and essential oils are extracted from narcissus flowers (among many others) and used in fragrances so that we may perfume ourselves.
Narcissus have been used in traditional medicine for millennia, from the treatment of cancerous tumors to wounds, strains, joint pain, and congestion. At one point it even was believed to treat freckles. As many times is the case, however, the efficacy of traditional medicines have been proven with contemporary research. For the daffodil, modern medicine has found important uses for galantamine, a daffodil derivative, as a drug used to treat Alzheimer's Disease and other memory impairments.
You may think they're too common. Ubiquitous. Pedestrian. But if you're not scent-averse, try a single paperwhite narcissus on your countertop or patio table. The next season, you may just be returning to acquire two or three.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Corey Barnes. Profile by Mona Bourell. Photos by Joanne Taylor and Brendan Lange.