Daffodils - Harbinger of Spring

Spring is on its way when Daffodils start blooming. It doesn’t matter if you call them daffodils, jonquils, buttercups, or something else – they are all members of the genus Narcissus.

They are broken into 13 categories by distinguishing cultivar characteristics. The trumpet or cup portion is known as the “corona” and the petals are called “segments” in these definitions, from The Daffodil Society:

  1. Trumpet: One flower to a stem; corona as long as, or longer than, the perianth segments.

  2. Large-cupped: One flower to a stem; corona more than one-third but less than equal to the length of the perianth segments.

  3. Small-cupped: One flower to a stem; corona not more than one-third the length of the perianth segments.

  4. Doubles: One or more flowers to a stem, with either doubled perianth segments or doubled corona or both.

  5. Triandruss: usually two or more pendent flowers to a stem; perianth segments reflexed (curved down toward the stem).

  6. Cyclamineus: One flower to a stem. Perianth segments significantly reflexed. Flower at an acute angle to the stem, with very short neck (“pedicel”).

  7. Jonquilla and Apodanthus: One to five flowers to a stem. perianth segments spreading or reflexed. Flowers usually fragrant.

  8. Tazetta: Usually three to twenty flowers on a thick stem with broad leaves. Perianth segments spread and are not reflexed. Flowers are fragrant.

  9. Poeticus: Perianth segments pure white. The corona is very short or disc shaped and not more than one fifth the length of the perianth segments. The corona is usually with a green and or/yellow center and red rim, but sometimes partly or entirely other colors. Anthers usually set at two distinctly different levels. Flowers are fragrant.

  10. Bulbocodium: Usually one flower to a stem. Perianth segments are insignificant compared with the corona. Filament and style (reproductive parts) are usually curved.

  11. Split Corona: Corona split-usually for more than half its length. This section is split into two divisions, the Collar & Papillon. Collar daffodils have corona segments opposite the perianth segments and the corona segments are usually in two whorls of three.  Papillon split-corona daffodils have corona segments alternate to the perianth segments. The corona segments are usually arranged in a single whorl of six.

  12. Other Cultivars: Daffodil cultivars which do not fit the definition of any other division.

  13. Daffodils Distinguished Solely by Botanical Name: All species and wild or reputedly wild variants and hybrids. 

Even persnickety gardeners can find a type to love.  The BEST characteristic is that deer, rabbits and voles find them unpalatable.  Disgusting, in fact.  Which is why I plant a solid ring of these bulbs around each of my most precious hostas and close to the crowns of my favorite daylilies.  The daffodil/hosta pairing is especially good under deciduous trees. In early spring the sun reaches the bulbs and allows them to gather energy to recharge themselves. As the leaves emerge on trees and their foliage fades, hostas that will thrive in the summer shade are pushing out leaves that will conceal the dying foliage.

These are incredibly long-lived plants. Several years ago, I returned to an old Snoddy homestead. Daffodils were next to the old rock foundation and in full bloom.  I dug up as many as I could and brought them home.  The homeowner died in 1842 and the house had been gone for a century, so the bulbs were quite old.  Because I moved them in full bloom, they didn’t flower well the first year, but since then they have been outstanding.

Cut daffodils last a long time in the vase, but excrete a thick sap that fouls the water. They are best when not combined with other flowers. Vase water should be changed daily.

The bulbs give you a couple of clues when it is time to dig and divide. First, they throw fewer flowers than in past years, and second, the leaves start becoming just a little narrower.  If you initially plant them in fertile soil with plenty of room for the bulbs to enlarge and replicate, it may take several years before you need to lift and separate. That’s a lot of spring for little effort.

My favorite place to buy:  Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, a fourth-generation retail company out of Gloucester, Virginia. 

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