Narcissus, Daffodil, Jonquil -- What’s the Difference?
The correct Latin or scientific name for all types in this genus is Narcissus. In classical mythology, Narcissus was a handsome young hunter. His vanity made him unable to tear himself from his own reflection in a pool, causing him to ultimately waste away. The name possibly derives from the Greek “narke” or numbness, referring to the narcotic alkaloids contained within the plant.
Daffodil is a common and generic term for any narcissus. The word is a variant of the Middle English “affodill”, from the Greek “asphodelos”, which is of unknown origin. No one knows for certain how the “d” got in front of this word, but it was possibly the result of a merged article/noun in the Dutch “de affodil”, since the Netherlands was a primary source of the bulb.
You may also hear people, particularly in the South, refer to Narcissus flowers as “jonquils”. Technically, however, the “jonquil” is just one Narcissus subgroup, the sweet-smelling N. jonquilla. From the French “jonquille”, the word ultimately derives from the Latin “juncus”, meaning rush or reed, in reference to the plant’s narrow leaves.
Every daffodil, from the tall to the small, is lovely. Besides the traditional yellow and gold, bloom colors can include white, cream, pink, apricot and orange. Unless you’re planning on breeding or showing these flowers, distinguishing the type isn’t critical. But learning about the wide variety of cultivars available may inspire you to add some diversity to your early spring garden next year. The American Daffodil Society structures the genus into 13 divisions:
|Division 1 - Trumpet Narcissus|
Probably no other narcissus better typifies the daffodil than the trumpets. These have a corona (the trumpet or cup part of the flower) equal to the length of the petals. Trumpet types and usually have fairly large bulbs and bear only one flower per stem. Classic favorites includes "King Alfred" (pictured left) and "Mount Hood". Zones 3-8.
|Division 2 - Large-Cupped Narcissus|
Defined by the ratio of the corona to the petals, large-cupped varieties have trumpets measuring more than a third the length of the petals. These eye-catching beauties have only one flower to a stem. Varieties to try include "Ice Follies", "Flower Record" and "Professor Einstein" (pictured left). Zones 3-8.
|Division 3 - Small-Cupped Narcissus|
Also bearing only one flower to a stem, the small-cupped varieties have cups less than a third of the petal height. These spicy-scented, low-maintenance bulbs make excellent naturalizers. Beautiful "Barrett Browning" (pictured left) and "Dreamlight" are examples. Zones 3-8.
|Diviision 4 - Double Narcissus|
Fluffy and fancy, double daffodils don’t have a distinct cup but instead are clustered. They often resemble camellias or roses. Most have more than one flower per stem. You might wish to try "Cheerfulness", "Yellow Cheerfulness" (pictured left), "Bridal Crown" or "White Lion". Zones 4-8.
|Division 5 - Triandrus Narcissus|
Triandrus daffodils are distinguished by their nodding heads and silky, reflexed petals. Plants usually have two or more flowers per stem. Delicate "Thalia" (pictured left) , "Hawera" and "Lemon Drops" are all triandrus types. Zones 4-9.
|Division 6 - Cyclamineus Narcissus|
The petals of the cyclamineus daffodils are dramatically swept back. The cups are straight and narrow, with a very short neck that lies at an acute angle to the stem. Each stem produces only one flower. These varieties make excellent subjects for forcing. They also accept more shade and moisture than most other types of daffodils. Hybrids include "February Gold", "Jack Snipe" and "Peeping Tom" (pictured left). Zones 4-9.
|Division 7 - Jonquilla Narcissus|
The jonquilla types are noted for a lovely fragrance and for having several flower heads per stem. The foliage is narrow and rush-like. N. jonquilla has a reputation for being more accepting of the heat found in Southern gardens. "Baby Moon" (pictured left), "Suzy" and "Quail" are well-known jonquilla. Zones 4-9.
|Division 8 - Tazetta Narcissus|
Fragrant tazettas are exceptionally short-cupped, with up to 20 flowers per stem. Petals are slightly crinkled with a rounded rather than pointed edge. Like the jonquilla types, tazetta daffodils work well for Southern gardeners. "Silver Chimes", "Minnow" (pictured left) and Avalanche" are examples. Zones 5-9.
|Division 9 - Poeticus Narcissus|
Also called the poet’s or pheasant’s eye daffodil, N. poeticus was one of the first to undergo cultivation. This variety is easy to identify because of the pure white petals contrasted with a small yellow cup bordered with red. The sweet, musky essential oil of this bloom is a popular ingredient in perfume. "Actaea" (pictured left) and "Angel Eyes" are two hybrids. Zones 3-7.
|Division 10 - Bulbocodium Narcissus|
Bulbodocium, or the hoop petticoat daffodil, features small flowers with relatively small petals and a cup shaped like a hoop skirt. The species form has led to a number of hybrids including "Golden Bells" (pictured left).
|Division 11 - Split-Cupped Narcissus|
Depending on their form, split-cut or split-corona daffodils can be divided into the sub-categories Collar or Papillon, or a combination of the two. The cups split into frilly segments of either two whorls of three or one whorl of six. "Lemon Beauty", "Sorbet" (pictured left) and "Pink Wonder" are among the split-cupped choices. Zones 4-8.
|Division 12 - Miscellaneous Narcissus|
The Miscellaneous group encompasses all the daffodils that don’t fall into any particular category, or are inter-division hybrids. Don’t let the lack of a defined category cause you to miss out on such charmers as "Tete-a-Tete" (pictured left).
|Division 13 - Species Narcissus|
The Species and Wild Variants category contains daffodils naturally occurring in the wild. Both bulbs and flowers of species types tend to be very small, and all naturalize well. An example is N. medioluteus, also called Two-Flower Narcissus or Twin Sisters (pictured left).
Plant these easy-care bulbs in a sunny, well-drained spot. Once blooming has finished, be patient with the foliage, since this is how the bulb stores up energy for next year’s bloom. Don’t cut the leaves back until they begin to shrivel and turn yellow. Interplanting your daffodils among larger perennials such as daylilies can help hide the bulb foliage during this period.
University of Illinois: Plant Palette - Daffodil, Narcissus, or Jonquil?
American Daffodil Society
thumbnail by mercurous
DG photos courtesy of:
“King Alfred” by Todd Boland
“Professor Einstein” by orange_knickers
“Barrett Browning” by flowerfrenzy
“Yellow Cheerfulness” by John Benoot
“Thalia” by TBGDN
“Peeping Tom” by bmuller
“Baby Moon” by Gardening_Jim
“Minnow” by naturepatch
“Actaea” by ladyrowan
N. bulbocodium var. conspicuus 'Golden Bells' by flowerfrenzy
“Sorbet” by artemiss
“Tete-a-Tete” by weezingreens
N. medioluteus by nick89