A long time ago when I was in high school, we read and studied literature from Shakespeare to Bronte to Melville. One of my teachers was fond of having us memorize literary stanzas and as the topic being covered at the time was poetry, we all were to memorize a poem. Always being a flower lover, I chose the poem, ‘The Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850).
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.
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/daffodils (Read entirety)
Even today when I see a naturalized planting of daffodils, some of the words (albeit not as many as I’d like) come back to me. I don’t know if it was Wordsworth’s poem or the rather large yard that inspired me but I planted dozens of daffodils when I first moved into our present home. There are now I bet close to a thousand!
Daffodils are members of the Amaryllis family and belong to the genus, Narcissus. All daffodils are narcissus but not all narcissus are called daffodils. The genus is divided into about a dozen divisions depending on flower type. There are a large number of hybrids as well. Daffodils refer to flowers with the large coronas or trumpets. These bulbous plants have also been referred to as jonquils, Lent lilies and daffadown dillies.
Plants of the narcissus genus have been around since ancient times. They are native to parts of southern and western Europe and neighboring countries. In some parts of Europe they have naturalized. Daffodils symbolize different sentiments in various places. They represent vanity to some, and wealth and good fortune to others. Some cultures consider them unlucky because the flowers tend to bend like heads held in shame. White flowered varieties have been associated with graveyards perhaps because they were said to be the flower that carpeted Elysian Fields, the legendary Field of the Dead.
I can’t say that I have seen very many white daffodils in local cemeteries but I have seen clumps of yellow daffodils lingering on old house lots. European settlers brought the bulbs to the new land with them. Anyone who has grown daffodils knows they are quite long-lived and some species, especially the yellow trumpet ones, have a tendency to self-seed as well as to produce offsets. While I doubt the plants blooming today were planted several hundred years ago by the early settlers, it is romantic to think about the bulbs crossing the ocean and lovingly being planted next to their new home. Each spring when they bloomed, they would serve as a reminder of what was left behind as well as hope for a brighter future.
Daffodils are not only beautiful, cheerful and often fragrant but they are among the toughest plants I have grown. Never are they bothered by insects or diseases and the deer do not eat them. Actually, the leaves contain various alkaloids that serve to protect the plant from nibbling.
Most of my daffodils are the bright, golden yellow trumpet narcissus and they all bloom pretty much at the same time. Because there are so many species, cultivars and hybrids, real daffodil aficionados could select ones that bloom from early to late spring providing a 6 week or so show depending on the weather. The cooler the spring, the longer the blooms of spring flowering bulbs last.
While I am quite fond of my daffodils when they are in bloom, I do wish the foliage would ripen and turn brown quicker than it does. A good number of daffodils are in flower beds and as the foliage turns yellow and then brown it is a bit of an eyesore and hard to mulch around. One needs to leave the foliage to photosynthesize and send back carbohydrates to the bulbs so they have enough energy and food to survive the summer, fall and winter to send up their cheery flowers the following year. I will admit to braiding the foliage in some of the closer beds even though you are not supposed to do that.
Many of the daffodil flowers are pollinated and go on to produce seed heads containing dozens of viable seeds. It was becoming challenging to weed out all the little sprouts the following year so I do my best do clip any seed heads I find before they ripen.
As the bulbs multiply, clumps of daffodils form and after a few years, fewer flowers are produced because the clumps need to be divided. This is sometimes easier said than done as the bulbs have contractile roots that pull them deeper and deeper into the soil.
Those with a fervent interest in daffodils might want to consider joining the American Daffodil Society (http://daffodilusa.org/). If you live or plan on visiting the Litchfield, CT area, the Trustees of Laurel Ridge Foundation invite folks to visit their daffodil planting from April through mid-May on Wigwam Road. Their website is http://www.litchfielddaffodils.com/.
Enjoy the cheery, fleeting blooms of daffodils. They signal the return of spring.