She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
–A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
Few other sights shout “SPRING’s COMING!” better than Daffodowndilly does with it’s bright and cheerful bloom. And she has done so since the beginning of time. Species of the Narcissus genus have been part of the landscape in the Iberian peninsula in south western Europe, for million’s of years. Both wild and cultivated plants have naturalised widely, and we know that some were introduced into the Far East prior even to the tenth century. Hence history reveals that Narcissi have been cultivated from the earliest of times, for medical as well as botanical purposes.
The word Narcissus is said to come from the Greek Narkao; meaning “to be numb”, one of the medicinal properties assigned to this bulbous plant.
Technically the large trumpet flowered Narcissus are usually referred to as Daffodils and Jonquil is a particular sweet smelling variety but people have used the names interchangeably for many years. Daffodills became increasingly popular in Europe after the 16th century and by the late 19th century they became an important commercial crop, primarily centered in the Netherlands.
Narcissi are popular as cut flowers and as ornamental plants in private and public gardens. The long history of breeding has resulted in thousands of different cultivars. Most species are spring blooming but there are a few fall blooming varieties of which the Paperwhites are best known. Click here and here and here for other blogs on fall blooming Narcissus.
In the garden
Preferring a place in the sun but also adaptable to a little light shade, Narcissus is an easy plant to grow for any North American gardener, except maybe in Florida. The flowers are rather conspicuous, consisting of six petal-like tepals surmounted by a cup- or trumpet-shaped corona, sprouting from a clump of smooth stems and leaves. The flowers are generally yellow or white, or a combination of the two but can also be orange or pink in some newer varieties. Different cultivars can sprout up anywhere, usually producing one flower, but some varieties produce anywhere from one to a multitude of flowers, up to twenty! These perennials bulbs are excellent for planting under trees. Some large gardens feature hundreds, and hundreds of Daffodils in a woodland setting, painting the floor in sunny colors. Smaller gardens often use this flower for clumps between shrubs or (later blooming) perennials. They can be incorporated in garden beds as well as pots, either for blooming outside in Spring or for forcing early blooms as an indoor harbinger of Spring.
Best to plant bulbs 1-½ to 5 times their own depth. Where winters are severe, make sure there is at least 3 inches of soil covering the bulb.
Daffodils will tolerate some crowding but prefer to be spaced 3 to 6 inches apart. If the weather does not deliver the needed rain during their blooming season, they appreciate a drink of water.
Rodents know to stay away from these bulbs so some gardeners mix a few Daffodils to their bulb mix, this will deter the rodents from feasting on your flower bulbs.
After blooming, allow the plants to grow until they die off. They need time after blooming to store energy in the bulbs for next year, so don’t cut the foliage until it has withered. This is a good time to add some bonemeal to the soil around them for next year’s blooms.
Narcissus fresh cut
The first thing to know about using Daffodils in floral designs is the fact that these stems ooze a clear, stringy liquid that often clog other cut flower stems in the same arrangement, unless they are conditioned properly. So before you arrange these sunny beauties with other flowers, they should sit in a separate bucket for several hours (at least 6 hours) and let the liquid drain from the stems. When arranging, try not to cut the stem again. If you do need to cut the stem again, drain it again until the oozing stops.
A common dermatitis problems for florists, “daffodil itch” involves dryness, fissures, scaling, and erythema in the hands. It is blamed on exposure to (calcium oxalate in) the sap.
Having said that, Daffodils are a treasured addition to any early Spring bouquet, at a time of year when humanity craves sunny colors and cheery sights, this flower delights all kinds. Often seen arranged with simple bare branches, or any of the blooming fruit tree branches, Tulips, Leucojum, Hyacinths. These are all good companions for Narcissus that bloom at the same time. Simple added to some cool greens or tucked into colorful spring bouquets, Narcissus brings out the sun in an arrangement. She can also stand all on it’s own and shine in a elegant vase or simple jar, whatever is on hand.
Daffodills have long been considered the flower of chivalry, nowadays the meaning is lasting friendship. Also rebirth, new beginnings and faithfulness can be the message when someone gifts this radiant flower.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was born to the nymph Liriope and fathered by the river god Cephissus. As a child he was adored by all, as he was a particularly beautiful child. Growing up, so admired for his looks, had it’s consequences for young Narcissus as this adoration did not benefit him but instead made him scornful to all who adored him. His parents grew worried about their child and inquired the prophet Teiresias what to do about Narcissus future? Teiresias saw into Narcissus’ future and answered that the boy would grow old ‘only if he did not get to know himself’. Narcissus grew into a handsome hunter and he attracted many admirers, including the nymph Echo, who fell madly in love with him and followed him into the woods. Handsome Narcissus soon became aware of someone following him and sneered at the Nymph to leave him alone, he had no feelings for her and ridiculed her for her love for him. Echo was heartbroken and spend the rest of her life in glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her.
Nemesis, the goddess of revenge heard of Echo’s ordeal and decided to punish Narcissus for his callousness. She lured him to a pool to drink some water and for the first time in his life Narcissus saw a reflexion of himself and instantly fell in love with his own image. To possess that beautiful image in the pool became a burning but unattainable desire and it is unfortunate to learn that this handsome hunter was not able to stop gazing onto his own reflexion. His desire bound him to the water’s edge until he prematurely died from sorrow.
When his family tried to retrieve his body, they could not find it anywhere but instead found a clump of Daffodil flowers, precisely in the spot where Narcissus’ body had slipped into the watery underworld, where, it is said, he still gazes onto his own reflexion.
National flower of Wales
Herbal and Culinary Use
The plant is poisonous, all Narcissus varieties contain the alkaloid poison lycorine, mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves. There are no culinary uses for this plant, however more than once was this plant mistaken for an union and victims of this error have suffered, sometimes severely. This is how people found out that the poison was swift and the heath of cooking did not weaken the effect of the poisonous properties. Merely chewing on the stem may be enough to cause a chill, shivering, and fainting. Daffodil can cause irritation and swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat. Daffodil can also cause vomiting, salivation, diarhea, brain and nerve disorders. In extreme cases lung colapse and even death.
As a medicine, Narcissus has long roots.
The bulb is the main ingredient in Narcissum, an ancient ointment that was used for joint pains and strains, skin wounds and burns, also the drawing out of thorns and such.
the powdered flower is said to possess emetic, cathartic, antispasmodic, and narcotic properties. It has been used in epilepsy, in hysteria, and other spasmodic affections.
Narcissus is also being studied as a medicine for Alzheimers disease.
In Homeopathy this remedy has been used in the treatment of bronchitis, coryza, diarrhea and whooping cough.
‘I AM DAZZLED BY YOUR CHARM’
Fields, meadows and grassy places, bristling with golden Buttercups, can be found throughout the northern temperate regions of the world. Look for these lustrous and delicate looking beauties near creeks, ditches, lakes or other damp places. Ranunculus is a genus of about 600 species including the Buttercups, Spearworts and Crowfoots. Anemones, Delphinium and Clematis are also in the Ranunculus genus but that is a whole other blog, so stay tuned for that.
Ranunculus comes from the Latin word ‘rana’ meaning ‘frog’. Some references suggest that the name refers to the damp places Ranunculus can usually be found but I also came across a few sites that credit the name to the likeness of a frog’s foot, when examining the foliage. Whatever the case might be, Ranunculus it is.
In the garden
Only a few of the Ranunculus species have become popular garden flower. They are either surprisingly difficult to cultivate or too easy and become weedy. However some Ranunculus varieties have done well as a garden plants and are widely available in garden stores from Fall -Spring.
Actually a perennial, too much or too little water will destroy this tuberous root and thus Ranunculus are often treated like an annual. Not such a bad strategy as they are such prolific bloomers and will give you many blooms for your buck when you have healthy plants.
Plant the tuber’s claw pointed end down and 1 to 2 inches deep, less in clay soil. Space jumbos 8 to 12 inches apart (at least one tuber per square foot), number three tubers about 4 inches apart two or three per square foot. See Prolific and Terrific Ranunculus.
Although found naturally in damp places, near creeks and such, most hybrid varieties prefer a well drained place in the garden. They need to be watered regularly but don’t want their roots in constantly damp soil. They will bloom for several weeks but when the temperatures rise, production will stop. Stop watering at that time, they need to stay dry when dormant.
Ranunculus is hardy to zone 8, in mild winter climates they can be planted in the fall for March-April blooms but in areas with harsher winters it is best to plant in early Spring for July blooms. Make sure to check for aphids, slugs and snails because Ranunculus are their favorite and try to keep the birds away when they first sprout.
There is much to love and enjoy about Ranunculus in the garden and beyond in the wilder regions of Mother Nature’s reign but nowhere are they better loved than in the cut-flower industry. The best variety for this purpose is Ranunculus asiaticus, or Persian Buttercup.
These beauties take their place right next to Peonies, Roses, Tulips and other Grand Dames of the botanical world. She is a remarkably versatile little lady and in reality not nearly as delicate as she looks. Ranunculus wows future brides with their sumptuous blooms of bountiful, tissue-like petals, swirling around and around like a crinoline petticoat. No one escapes their charm….no one! And for good reasons as they make a great cut-flowers. Stunning in any bridal bouquet but simply dazzling all by itself in a bouquet studded with the blooms.
They hold up in corsages and boutonnieres fine most of the year. I would not really recommend Ranunculus for body flowers in July or August, although I have seen it done and it worked, but it was not such a sweltering day as it can be that time of year.
Ranunculus is phototropic (like many other flower stems) and should be kept upright at al time or their stems will bend upwards to the light and cause the stem to be crooked. If Ranunculus goes limp, you can wrap them in damp newspaper, re-cut on a slant and allow them to stand upright for several hours in warm water and preservative. Their vase life is 6 to 10 days but keep in mind that it is important to keep the water clean.
The newer varieties grow up to 16-18″ tall which makes them so versatile in bouquets and arrangements, what’s not to love?
Ranunculus is available most of the year except maybe during the hottest summer months and they come in a myriad of pinks-, whites-, yellow- , red- and orange tones. Pair them with Forget-Me Not’s, Sweet Peas, Linaria, Snapdragon etc. for a charming and romantic mixed bouquet. For a stunningly elegant bouquet combine Ranunculus with Roses or Peonies, complimenting and repeating the bigger blooms in the bouquet. Your bride will love it, how can she not? She’s Dazzled By Her Charm!
Herbal/ Medicinal use.
All parts of Ranunculus is toxic to humans and livestock and is known to cause severe blistering of the mouth when eaten by cows or sheep as well as bloody diarrhea, excessive salivation and colic. The taste is bitter so fortunately not many people or animals are tempted to eat it and will stay away from Buttercups. They have also been known to cause dermatitis, so maybe that is one thing not to love about them, but I have had no such problems myself.
Ranunculus is used in herbal medicine. Due to it’s toxicity level I want to stress the importance of consulting with a skilled herbalist or homeopath, which I am not, this is just a mentioning of the wide variety of uses Ranunculus has.
A Modern Herbal by mrs. M Grieve reveals Bulbous Buttercup possesses the property of inflaming and blistering the skin
Medicinal Herb Info. reports under medicinal uses: Counterirritant, anodyne, antispasmodic, diaphoretic; external rubefacient, epispastic.
Here in the Pacific NW legend has it that the mythological creature Coyote was tossing his eyes up in the air and unfortunately lost them to Eagle who flew by and snatched up those beauties in plain sight. Much of this story leaves me with many questions, and alas I can not answer these questions but whatever the case may be; Coyote found himself without any eyes. However he was a clever creature and what happened next: he simply picked up a few Buttercups (which he probably had spotted before he decided to play games with his eyes) and inserted them into his skull exactly where his eyes had once been and Coyote was good as gold again. So there, do not despair when you find your eyes are flying through the air, Buttercups can help you stare and life will be once again be fair. Now please do share.
Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) member of the Caryophyllaceae family is as popular as cut flower as a garden plant. Usually grown as a bi-annual it will grow foliage the first year and then blooms the second year. Sometimes it’s a short lived perennial but when given a chance, it will reseed itself generously and behave like a long lasting perennial.
I have found it fairly easy to take care of this colorful friend which I give a place in full sun. I usually seed them indoors in late winter as they transfer well after all danger of frost has gone. Springs brings plenty of rain here in the NW, so this early summer bloomer only needs a little water during a early, long dry spell. By the time the hottest days or August roll around, my Sweet William has gone dormant after producing copious amounts of seeds.
Possibly because I pick almost all flowers for cutting, my plants tend to bloom for several years in a row, so I leave them overwintering in the hope they will bloom early next year. When some plants turn yellow or look ragged I pull them up and add a little mulch to the area and sometimes seed a bit of Red Clover in these bare spots during the winter. I like using this cover crop, it is so useful as it fixes the nitrogen in the soil so it can be taken up by other crops. Simultaneously they prevent weeds from growing. The beauty of Red Clover in bloom should not be underestimated! Blooming occurs in this cover crop a little before the Dianthus starts to shoot up it’s own blooms, so I enjoy the show of bright red Clover plumes for a little while but I make sure to cut out these plants before they start producing seeds.
Their roots however should stay in the ground for a while as this is where the nitrogen-fixing nodules are located, so let these little stumps die down naturally. You can plant new plants from the greenhouse in-between the clover stumps at this time.
Sweet William originally hails from southern Europe and was cultivated by monks as early as the 1100‘s and in the 16th century Sweet William was used in the gardens of Henry the Vlll’s Hampton Court Palace. It has now widely naturalized in Europe as well as North America. The development of this Dianthus for the floral industry came in the 18th and 19th century.
It was John Gerard a 16th century botanist and herbalist who first referred to Dianthus barbatus as ‘Sweet Williams’ in his 1596 garden catalog.
The name ‘Dianthus’ comes from the Greek, ‘dios’ meaning ‘divine’ and ‘anthos’ is ‘flower’. The epithet ‘barbatus’ means bearded and all sources checked explains that this name refers to the fuzzy or beard-like growth at the flower’s center. However I have my doubts about that concept as this fuzzy growth in the center is nothing else but the stamen of the flowers. I rather think that the beard-like growth that forms as the flower develops, is the root of the name. However I have not been able to find any reference to such a claim.
The petal are considered edible and have a mild clove like flavor. They do well in fish dishes, marmalade and cold drinks, ice cream and more. They also shine in desserts, soups, stews, sauces or tossed in a salads and of course are perfect for decorating or adding to cake.
It is better to remove the white heel at the base of the petal, this part has a bitter taste.
Dianthus species contain flavonoids in their petals.
Medicinally Dianthus barbatus is used in Homeopathy as well a Chinese herbal medicine as a diuretic for urinary tract infections.
The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera such a Moths and Butterflies.
For the florist Sweet William can be stored at 34-36F for 7-10 days, both dry and wet storage can be equally effective. Sweet William makes a perfect mass or filler flower in many bouquet combinations. Pairing them in a seasonal bouquet with Snapdragons, Foxglove or Lupines and Allium, Roses and/or Peonies is always a winner. They might not play a mayor role but their intense colors stand out brightly while offsetting the focus flowers with gusto. Their intricate flower clusters will draw you in for a closer look and then the faint clove like fragrance starts playing with your senses and all you can do is surrender to their charm.
Florists like to include Sweet William not only to express finesse or gallantry but Dianthus barbatus also asks subtly for a smile, which surely will be granted, how can it not?
Was is smiles that Cate Middleton hoped to see at her marriage to Prince William or was the inclusion of this flower a nod to her gallant prince William? Who knows? The duchess of Cambridge has not elaborated on her choice of bouquet flowers. However we can conclude that she likes to keep the season, Lilly of the Valley as well as the Sweet William, was certainly in season that April in 2011.
Sweet William can be propagated from seed, cuttings, or division, but keep in mind that seeds of cultivars will not breed true but can turn out to be a different color or pattern altogether. However Dianthus varieties do cross pollinate easily and hence many new hybrids have occurred over time.
Seed in your garden in late summer for blooms the next year or seed indoors in tray or small pots in late winter and plant after last frost. These plants may or may not bloom the first year.
Sweet William likes a place in in full sun to part shade, plant about six inches apart, in loamy, slightly alkaline soil. You can crowd them a little but not too much, else they become leggy. A good tip is to add some lime into the planting soil for stronger plants.
Winter hardy to USDA Zones 3-9.
Well that’s all for now folks, go out there and pick a few flowers.