OHIO VALLEY — Daffodils, Narcissus, jonquils, which word is the correct one to call these beautiful harbingers of spring? They bring such joy after a long dreary winter, appearing as bright spots on a still gray and brown landscape, that most would not argue with what to call them.
All flowers in this group have the same genus name, Narcissus, derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness, and also the root of the word narcotic. The flower may have been named because of its fragrance, or because parts of the plant were used for medicinal purposes.
Narcissus is the Latin name or botanical name for daffodils, and daffodil is the common name for all members that fall under the genus Narcissus. Native to meadows and woods in southern Europe, North Africa, and the Western Mediterranean, particularly the Iberian Peninsula. Ancient Greeks called this flower asphodel, meaning peace after death and the afterlife, and the English word “daffodil” may have been derived from this.
If that seems complicated to most who admire the flower, the American Daffodil Society recommends the name daffodil except for scientific writing. According to Ohio State University Extension, daffodil would be the correct common name for all types grown in our area.
Narcissus have spread across the world, and we can probably thank the Romans for the daffodils that dot hillsides and flourish in gardens in North America. According to several British gardening sites, the English became enamored with daffodils after they were brought to the area by the Romans, who considered the sap to have healing powers. Later, the flowers journeyed across the Atlantic to North America with British settlers.
The popularity of daffodils is evident in the number of paintings and inclusion in writings over the centuries. The canvas of artists Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh depict these yellow flowers, and Shakespeare pays homage in “A Winter’s Tale.”
Daffodils are hardy and require little care in the correct environment. These bulbed flowers multiply by producing more bulbs, or, by producing seeds if the eggs within the flower are fertilized by a pollinator.
Daffodils have been included in gardens for thousands of years, grow well in groups, and after blooming, the green leaves eventually die and the bulbs sleep until spring. Since the plants, including the bulbs, are toxic to most animals, they usually remain undisturbed.
Different types of daffodils bloom at different times, and usually begin their welcomed entrance in mid-March and continuing through mid-April.
A sign of spring’s arrival, a bright end to a long Winter, daffodils capture our attention and put smiles on our faces.
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.