What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
–Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Picture the flower: daffodil, jonquil, narcissus. If you are like most people, probably a particular flower comes to mind. However depending in which part of the country you grew up or lived, or even your age, the specific flowers associated with each of these terms may be different. This confusion, when using common names for plants, is why botanists classify plants using their Latin or scientific names.
So what exactly is the difference between a daffodil, a narcissus, and a jonquil? The simple answer, according to University of Illinois Extension specialist Jennifer Schultz Nelson, “is nothing, or “it depends.” All three terms are used as common names in many cases and used incorrectly. Narcissus is technically the only correct scientific name identifying the genus of this group of plants. It is not a common name, though some use it as such. Daffodil is typically used as a collective name for all these plants, but is more often used to describe the larger flowered types. Jonquil is a name sometimes used for this group as well, but actually only applies to a very small subgroup, Narcissus jonquilla and related hybrids, which typically have several small, fragrant flowers on each stem with flat petals. The foliage is very narrow and reed-like, according to the American Daffodil Society (ADS).”
The American Daffodil Society (ADS) designates 13 divisions of daffodils with, depending on which botanist is asked, over 40 to 200 different daffodil species, subspecies and varieties of species and over 25,000 registered cultivars or named hybrids. Daffodils are members of the Amaryllis family, of the genus Narcissus. Narcissus is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness or stupor. Perhaps the name was given because in Greek mythology Narcissus was a young man so enamored of himself that he stared at his reflection in a pool of water until he eventually drowned as he tried to embrace himself. Supposedly flowers grew up around the site. Or the name Narcissus may refer to the flower’s intoxicating fragrance, or because all parts of the daffodil are poisonous. In fact, not only animals but even humans who have occasionally mistaken a daffodil bulb for an onion, have become ill upon eating the bulb. There is even a contact dermatitis called “daffodil picker’s rash” which can occur upon repeated handling of the stems.
Above: Narcissus tazetta Double Roman peeking our thru leaves of our yew at The Demonstration Garden
Daffodils found growing wild in Texas around old homesteads or cemeteries were probably brought over here from Europe by early settlers, according to Dr. Jerry Parsons, retired AgriLife Extension Horticulturist. Daffodils will grow best in a well drained area in full sun though they can naturalize in part shade under deciduous trees. The bulbs should be planted and divided in the fall or late summer. It is extremely important that the foliage be allowed to grow, mature and ripen naturally. According to Dr. Parsons, it should never be cut off or “tied in cute little knots.” It is the foliage that stores up the food reserves for the next year’s blooms and new bulbs. In a flower bed, the withering foliage can be disguised by other plants.
Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’, a bulb that will naturalize in Texas
To naturalize daffodils in Texas, it is important to plant the correct varieties. In general, according to Dr. Parsons, Southern grown stock is genetically superior in vigor to the commercial Dutch forms. His article on daffodils in Plant Answers lists some of his favorite varieties. Another excellent source for bulbs of all kinds collected from Texas and neighboring states is The Southern Bulb Company www.southernbulbs.com. The owner, Chris Wiesinger, collects heirloom and sometimes rare bulbs that will perform very well for the warm-weather gardener. Many of the daffodils and bulbs planted at the DemonstrationGarden have come from his stock.
So, whether you call them daffodil, narcissus or jonquil,
now is the time to enjoy these delightful flowers.
Picture of ‘Double Roman’ and ‘Grand Primo’ by Starla
Daffodil ‘Unsurpassable’: DaffSeek, American Daffodil Society, Inc., Unsurpassable retrieved on Mar 6, 2014’, available at www.daffseek.org
Take in all things Daffodil at The Annual Texas Daffodil Society Show this weekend at the Dallas Arboretum.