The appeal of daffodils comes not only from their beauty but also from their hardiness and wide variety of bloom sizes and shapes. The flowers come in a range of bright, cheerful colors that often display contrasting orange, yellow, or apricot cups.

poet's daffodil

white and gold daffodils

Narcissus, the beautiful

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter known for his beauty. According to the Greek poet and grammarian Joannes Tzetzes, he rejected all romantic advances, eventually falling in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. When he died, the flower that bears his name sprouted in his place.

The god Narcissus

(Narcissus falls in love with his reflection, by Caravaggio (1594-96) edited; (CC0 1.0)

Those beautiful blooms

The word daffodil is actually a nickname for the Narcissus (Greek narkissos). It refers to the numbing sensation produced by the plant's alkaloid content. All members of this plant family are poisonous, which benefits gardeners by making them repulsive to most garden critters and pests. The bulbs and leaves contain poisonous crystals that only certain insects can consume without dying. The bulbs are occasionally dug up by chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, rabbits, and voles.

double daffodil

(photo mine)

This flower is also called a jonquil. However, that term represents only one botanical group of daffodils, Narcissus jonquilla. The Royal Horticultural Society divides Narcissus into 13 divisions, ranging from the large showy cup varieties to trumpet varieties and wild variants.

Daffodils are an economical investment for your garden. They're relatively inexpensive, which allows you to plant a large quantity of them in fall and enjoy their showy spring display for years to come. These reliable, cold-hardy flowers can be used for landscaping your garden and cut for indoor use.

Symbolism

The daffodil is said to symbolize incomparable love. It not only has associations with the death of the self-loving Narcissus, but also as a popular Easter flower due to its annual spring resurrection.

narcissus blooming for the author
(photo mine)

Inspiration for a famous poem

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth (1804)

child looking at a field of daffodils

double golden daffodil

(photo mine)

How to grow them

Daffodils are long-lasting and not bothered by deer or other animals. They can be divided to obtain more for transplanting or left in place to multiply.

Bulbs are available at local nurseries in the fall and through mail order catalogs. Select large, healthy bulbs. Plant them about 5-6 inches deep and 5-6 inches apart.

The bulbs can be planted in garden beds, under deciduous trees, in containers with other bulbs, and used for naturalizing. Following bloom, the leaves must be left in place until they yellow and die. This assures that nutrients are replenished for next season. Do not fold the leaves down, tie with rubber bands, or cut them until they begin to detract from the garden’s appearance.

peach and white daffodil

Daffodils prefer full sun but are tolerant of partial sun. They're not particular about soil, but it must drain well in order to avoid bulb rot. At planting time, apply a balanced fertilizer. Apply a low nitrogen fertilizer annually in the spring and fall.

Division should be done after the blooming period ends and the leaves yellow. Dig up, divide, and replant immediately, if possible. Or store them in a dry area with good air circulation until they can be planted in the fall. If there's a decline in blooms after several years, dig up the over-crowded plants and divide them.

Soak cut daffodil blooms in water for 24 hours to eliminate the poisonous sap they contain. Don’t cut the stems after that. This will trigger another release of toxic sap.

daffodil foliage emerging

(Some of my daffodils emerging in early February)

daffodils in my yard

(Photo mine)