Narcissus – The daffodil, to many, is the plant that heralds the coming of Spring. The emergence of clusters of green spears appearing in our gardens and along the sides of country highways in the winter is the comforting realisation that the bleakness of the season won’t last forever. The bursts of whites and yellows that emerge from February onward are the staple of the spring months, that guide us into promises of warmer weather, and lighter evenings. They are the trusty plant that takes our hand and guides us out of the barren wilderness of the Winter and into the bounty of colour that our Summer months reward us with.
Originating in the Iberian Peninsula region of Southwest Europe, Narcissus is divided into 13 different divisions, classified predominantly by the shape and size of their blooms. With over 25,000 different cultivars in existence, there really can be a daffodil for almost anybody to name as their favourite. From the traditional varieties that fall into the trumpet division, or those of the beautifully scented, single head Poeticus classification, there is a depth to daffodils that many are unaware of.
Though the first written record of the daffodil was around 300BC, in Theoprastus’ ‘Historia Plantarum’ it was around the 16th Century that they first gained popularity in European gardens. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th Century that the classification of daffodils into divisions began, with seven original divisions being formed in 1908 for gardens and shows. Within two years these had been altered to eleven separate divisions.
In modern times, the daffodil has become a representation of hope, and adopted as an emblem by many cancer charities across the world, perhaps most famously by Marie Curie Cancer Care, and it seems a perfect fit. The hopes that come with a new season, the first sign of revival after the bleakness that has come before, perfectly represented in the hope that these amazing charities give to those who they strive to assist. Daffodils do however have their place in science in their own chemical right. Galantamine, a chemical found in Daffodils and Gallanthus (snowdrops) is used to treat early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Superstitiously, it is believed that too present a bouquet of daffodils to somebody is a symbol of good fortune and prosperity, whereas to present to somebody a solitary daffodil, as a young child might innocently present to their mother, is an indication of imminent bad luck. In the Far East, varieties of Daffodils are grown and intentionally forced, as Narcissus blooming for the Chinese New Year is a sign of good luck.
As with all species of flower, as Science has evolved, hybrids are being constantly created. As the number of cultivars increase, their popularity does also. It’s safe to say, that even though the daffodil is in its’s 5th century of popularity in European gardens, it certainly won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.