Narcissus, Daffodils, Jonquil, Happy sights of Spring Delight.


Daffodowndilly
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.

90409Technically 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! daffodills in landscape credit Charlotte WeychanThese 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

IMG_8384The 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. DSCN2341

 

 

 

Narcissus folklore

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.folklore-2-300x174
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.daffodills2

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.

daffodills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your favorite flower?


In the floral industry we get asked that question quite a bit and no one in their right mind will answer with just one favorite flower, simply because in the flower world there is simply too much beauty to behold. The colors, the shapes, the smells, the wonders, the legends, the secrets and promises, the magic of flowers,  they  are like a kaleidoscope of favorites presenting a plethora of beaux flirting with your heart.

However there is one that is on the tip of my tongue, always, even as I swallow the name in order to tell you how this question can not be answered with just one flower.  She is blue and shy, cool and oh so sweet when her racemes uncurl and tiny 5 petaled flowers, carried on even tinier pedicels,  look up and reflect Summer’s happiness in the miniature sky blue umbels. You will not forget her once you’ve met.

picture of Forget Me Not
Forget Me Not

Forget Me Nots or Myosotis sylvatica (meaning Mouse Ear of the wood) is a member of the Borage family  and probably the flower closest to my heart. Her modest demeanor appeals to me. Happy with a place in shade but freely adapts to a much sunnier place as long as Spring rains keep it hydrated. I love this tiny flower mostly I think because it mirrors the blue summer sky like no other flower can. But also poignant in my mind is an long ago conversation I had with my Mother now more than two decades ago. She introduced me to the name and we talked  about the flower’s simple beauty and demure quality. I did not know at the time that it was one of the last flower talks we would have together. She passed away only a short while later but these flower have bloomed, moved with me and re-seeded in my Oregon garden(s) ever since that beautiful day in Virginia, reminding me of my dear Mother who inspired me to love  the flowers.

Forget Me Nots are prevalent with meaning. In the language of flowers they symbolize endurance, fidelity and loyalty. When Henry the IV was exiled  from England he adopted the flower and preserved it until he came back a year later.
Forget Me Nots also signify remembrance during parting and being apart after good times.

forget me not clipart

In floristry the flower is not that commonly in use. A shame really as it can be a very good cut flower when properly conditioned.

picture of a week old vase arrangement with Forget Me Not.
Forget Me Not after a week in a vase.

I pick them when a cluster of tiny flowers have opened, clean off the lower leaves and other debris. When all cleaned up I lay the whole flower in a lukewarm bath properly conditioned with flower food, covering the whole stem and flower for about an hour or two. After which I will put them upright in a jar full of water and arrange as usual,  taking care that the stems do not get crushed by other, more substantial stems in the process. They look great around the neck of a vase or tucked in the middle of an arrangement lower towards the water source where they are a sweet surprise not obvious at first glance.

Picture of vase arrangement including Stock, Chrysanthemum, Muscari and Forget Me Not.
Forget Me Not combined with magenta Stock, Muscari and two varieties of Chrysanthemums.

vase with forget me nots

The blossoms can be added to salads as a garnish and make excellent candied blooms. However, the plant does contain some pyrrolizidine, a chemical not to eat a lot of so use only occassionally and not to excess.

The whole plant is astringent and it has been used in herbal medicine as an effective remedy for several eye conditions, including conjunctivitis. It is also a handy first aid herb to help stop bleeds when applied externally, fresh or in powder (dried).

Forget Me Nots are pollinated by  Lady bugs, small flies and other hymenopterans.

The easiest way to get Forget me Not’s started in you garden is to buy some seeds (available at Petal Passion) and scatter them a few weeks before last frost date (now) in your area for blooms in fall or next spring.  Or scatter the seeds in early fall for spring blooms. Once established they will reseed easily, just make sure you recognize the seedling when you are doing your spring weeding.
Forget me Not’s are also available as a plant ( at Petal Passion available in one gallon pots as well as 4″pots), they are a bi-annual but usually behave as a perennial. In my garden their foliage start appearing in fall and by the end of March I harvest the blooms.

tatoo of forget me nots

There is a story in the name, there always is. This legend tells of a German Knight who was walking along the steep bank of the a river, picking flowers for the love of his life who was accompanying him on this day. The heavy armor he was wearing, (why? The story does not tell) brought him off balance while reaching for the tiny flowers and he fell down to the swift river below that was swollen with spring rains. He threw the Myositis to his lady and shouted: Forget Me Not my love and so this became the name of the Spring blooming Myosotis. After the  knight plunged into his watery grave, the maiden then wept big tears of sorrow onto the soil on which the blooms had landed and from then on the spring blooming Forget Me Nots have forever thrived.

Or maybe before this tragic story even happened, in the beginning of time when the creator gave out names to flowers, one tiny one was forgotten in the shade and she cried out: Forget Me Not, and so the creator said: That shall be your name and so it was. Then a bit later when that creator got around to painting all the flowers he had named, he did not notice this tiny thing in the shade but she was not to be forgotten as her name implied so courageously she brought up the issue with her creator who gladly corrected the matter and went back to the painting shed. But as fortune would have it, no colors were left except a tiny smidgen of blue. For a tiny flower such as the Forget Me Not, not much paint was needed so the creator decided to go with it. He spread out the lick of blue as far as it would go and thus Forget Me Not ended up in blooming in the hue of a the blue summer sky.

Wildflowers on Larch Mountain


Once in a while my husband and I find time to go on a hike. I love to bring my wildflower book along so we can identify the flowers encountered on the trail. This Memorial Day weekend brought us to a misty Larch Mountain trail and although it was not a good day for beautiful vista’s that one can enjoy on a clear day, it was however a beautiful and almost mystical walk among the lush green undergrowth, the tall dense trees and the old growth snags and logs, resting on the forest floor.

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