Narcissus

According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was a boy who was exceptionally beautiful. There are many versions, but basically he saw his reflection in a body of water and became obsessed with his own beauty. Unable to tear himself away, and unaware that it was his own image,  he stayed there until he died.  The story goes on to say that a beautiful flower grew on the spot in which Narcissus had died, and remained there, facing its reflection in the water. Today, we use the words narcissism and narcissistic to describe people who are self-absorbed and vain.

Narcissus is also the name of a genus of flowers in the Amaryllidaceae family which includes 50-100 species. These plants are native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. The common name for all of the species is Daffodil, but some varieties are called by other names such as Paperwhites and Jonquils. Almost all Daffodils are perennial, spring-flowering bulbs, one of the first plants to bloom each year.

In China, Narcissus flowers are a symbol of wealth and fortune. It is considered good luck to have a Narcissus blooming at the time of the Chinese New Year.  Skilled growers carve Narcissus bulbs before they grow, carefully cutting them to force them to grow in a specific way. Leaves that would normally be straight become twisted or curly. As they grow, the plants become a living sculpture, with fragrant flowers. Sometimes, they can even be made into a shape such as an elephant, a flying bird, or a basket.

All Narcissus have a central corona, which is disc shaped, trumpet shaped or bowl shaped. This is surrounded by a ring of 3 petals and 3 sepals, called the perianth. The perianth and the corona may be the same color, or may be quite different. Most perianths are white or yellow, but the coronas can be found in many shades of yellow, white, orange, green, pink and red.

Narcissus species vary from small flowers to large, clusters to single flowers. The most common type planted today is the large flower Daffodil, which has a single flower on each stalk. It’s quite easy to grow and low maintenance.  Placed in rich, well drained soil, in full sun, they appear reliably every spring.  Just make sure to plant the bulb in a hole that is at least 3 times as deep as the bulb is tall. Also, once the blooms are finished, it is important to leave the foliage until it turns yellow, in late May or June. I am tempted every year to chop off those withered leaves, but that will hurt the plant, and decrease the growth for next year. My daffodils grow among dwarf daylilies, which do a pretty good job of disguising the foliage which is past its prime.

The smaller flowered Narcissus are good for naturalizing. This involves planting large numbers of bulbs in an area where they can grow and spread naturally, without being disturbed. If you chose to try this, make sure you plant them by the beginning of October, before the roots start to grow. Over time, the bulbs will increase in number, and you’ll have a lovely display each spring. Those who live by woods will be glad to know that deer dislike Daffodils and will not eat them.


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