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.
To find the origins of our modern Valentines Day celebration we’ll go back to ancient Rome, to a festival of ritual purification during the second lunar period of the year. It was called Februalia.
In these bygone days this month was a time of sacrifice and purification to atone for the sins committed. Homes were swept, ritually cleansed and wheat spelt and salt were sprinkled throughout the house, to ward of evil spirits and bad omens.
Later Februalia was fused with a much more raucous and popular celebration of Lupercalia, a festival in honour of Lupercus the god of fertility and Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Also the she wolf Lupa who is believed to have suckled Rome’s mythical founders Romulus and Remus, was honored during this time, which occurred at the ides of February.
Members of the Luperci order of Roman priests would gather on the 13th day of the month in a sacred cave where Lupa was believed to have suckled the infants Romulus and Remus. Here the priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. The ritual is said to include two of the younger priests being led to the altar, laughing and a elder priest touching the point of a knife dipped in the sacrificial blood to the priests forehead and was wiped off with a wool cloth, soaked in milk. A feast would follow after which the Luperci members take the hides of the animals and cut them into strips that were then subsequently dipped in the sacrificial blood. Some references tell me that men and woman would strip naked, while the Luperci priests take these blood soaked hides into the fields and into the streets where married woman willingly let themselves be slapped, as it was believed that this would assure fertility and easy pregnancies and births. Slapping the strips in the fields and pasture assured healthy crop in the coming summer.
Another part of the celebration was a matchmaking lottery. Young men were encouraged to draw the name of a young woman out of a jar and ‘couple’ for the duration of the festival or longer, if it all worked out.
Mmm, must have been some party, I think.
Pondering this festival of fertility, the irrational methods they used, I chuckled when I realized how despite the absence of science, it was still probably a most effective ritual.
Tales of history disclose a story of Claudius II who spend much of his reign at war with the Gauls and Etruscans, for which he needed a a continues supply of young man, willing to give up their lives.
That was not happening as smoothly as hoped and Claudius believed this to be because the men did not want to leave their wives. You have to admit that Claudius II showed real insight in this matter. So the emperor needed to solve this dilemma, and declared all marriages invalid and forbid all other nuptials to take place for the duration of the war. Needless to say that the people pushed back and continued to tie the knot in secret. One of the officials who continued to help young couples unite in marriage was Bishop Valentine. He married many couples during these dangerous times and eventually Valentine was caught in the act of performing a matrimonial ceremony and was subsequently thrown in the dungeons.
It is said that the daughter of one of his jailers was one of the many young people who had been helped by the bishop and was able to visit him in jail. The story goes that she received notes and letters from him, signed simply as ‘your Valentine’, as we still do to this day.
Lupercalia at first survived the initial rise of Christianity but when Pope Gelasius came to power, he did not like the heathen rituals of the pagans, especially not the hyper sensual celebration of Lupercalia and he did everything he could to quell this holiday. After a long fight he was eventually able to outlaw the celebration and declared February 14th the day of St. Valentine, honoring the late Bishop’s compassion on the day he had died so many years ago.
Later during the end of the dark ages, this day once again became associated with love and fertility as in France and England Feb. 14th was referred to as the beginning of the bird’s mating season, which gave rise to the idea that Feb 14th should be a day of romance for all. And so is has been until modern times.
The oldest Valentines Day card still existing was penned in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, send to his wife while being held in the Tower of London.
We continue to write love notes on this day as we also celebrate love with chocolate and flowers. Don’t forget your lover on this day, because we all need to hear from our Valentine once in a while.