Narcissus, Daffodils And Jonquils - True Signs Of Spring

The lovely intense colors of what are confusingly called daffodils, Narcissus and jonquils are one of the true signs of spring throughout most parts of the United States, Europe, Canada, North Africa and Asia. These bulb type spring plants are so beautiful in the garden but they are equally lovely growing beside the roads, in the woods and even in the middle of your lawn or pasture. Depending on where you live the flowers and plants may go by one of three or more names, but there are some differences.  However, in a pinch, you can call any of these plants by the name of Narcissus and be technically and scientifically correct.

In reality Narcissus is the Latin name for the whole genus of these types of bulbs. They are in the Amaryllis family and are related to those beautiful winter flowering bulbs available over the Christmas season. Some Narcissus plants also bloom in the fall but they are not easy to find or common in most nurseries and gardening stores.

My Winter Pond

Spring is just around the corner!
Spring is just around the corner!

The Legend of Narcissus

The genus name is derived from a similar story in both Greek and Roman mythology. In most accounts Narcissus was a real ladies man but he was cruel and heartless to those that fell in love with his exceedingly good looks. There are several variations of the myth, but in the end Narcissus sees his own reflection in the water of a still pond and falls in love. In the Greek version he is unable to avert his gaze he slowly dies of hunger and starvation, cursed to be in love with the reflection in the pond without realizing it is himself. The Roman version as retold by Ovid has Narcissus realize that he is looking at his own reflection. He then kills himself because he believes he can never find anyone as perfect.

There are other versions as well but they all end up with Narcissus dead beside the pond, trapped on the spot by his own beautiful reflection. Where his body fell a flower was said to bloom the next spring and so it was named the Narcissus.

Daffodils In My Garden

Characteristics Of The Narcissus Genus

All plants within the Narcissus family have similar characteristics. Most varieties have  a single layer of six petals on each flower, all forming an open circle or perianth around a central corona. The corona can be disk, trumpet or bowl shaped and can be the same color as the petals or it can be darker. The flowers form a tube before attaching the stem which is solid and upright, keeping the flowers standing straight when in full bloom. New varieties offer double and even triple rows of petals for a very unique and striking appearance. Colors range from white petals with yellow to gold coronas to the uniform bright lemony yellow to darker gold colors. Leaves tend to be narrower and upright, dark green and form a dense green base for the flowers.

Below is a general guideline as to the proper use of the names Narcissus, daffodil and jonquil.

Paperwhites

Narcissus

Typically when a gardener or florist uses the term Narcissus, they are referring to a specific species within the genus. This is scientifically known as Narcissus tazetta papyraceous or more commonly called the Paperwhite. They are very small, completely white flowers that bloom in the spring in small to large bunches. Paperwhites are delicate in appearance and have a beautiful scent, making them a terrific addition to spring floral arrangements.

Close-up of a Daffodil

Note the rounded petals and darker corona.
Note the rounded petals and darker corona.

Daffodils

Daffodils can also correctly be called Narcissus, but typically most people differentiate. Daffodil has come to signify the largest member of the genus and it is also the showiest. The flowers tend to be large and intensely colored, often with a darker corona than petals in cultivated varieties. The specific name for the daffodil is Narcissus pseudonarcissus, and there are many different varieties.

Daffodils grow well in most soil conditions however the bulbs do need to be kept in a dry soil over the winter months to prevent rot. They will continue to develop more bulbs over time and they literally last forever in the garden in most parts of the United States. While they can tolerate cold in most climates they can also be brought inside then exposed to the cold in controlled settings to prompt spring blooming.

Daffodils will bloom for a significant amount of time depending on the specific plant variety. Some will bloom for several months while others bloom for a few weeks in the spring.

Daffodils In My Garden

Close-up Of A Jonquil

Note the elongated petals and tubular leaves.
Note the elongated petals and tubular leaves.

Jonquils

Often found growing wild in parts of the southern and western United States, the jonquil, Narcissus jonquilla, is smaller and less showy than the cultivated daffodil. They tend to have more pointed petals, smaller flowers and flowers in groups from the bulb rather than a single flower stalk. The jonquil also has thin tubular leaves rather than the wider flat leaves of the daffodil.

Jonquils have a stronger scent than the daffodil and make great cut flowers. The jonquil can also be a cultivated variety and looks lovely combined with daffodils of different colors in a spring garden.

Here in Texas I have moved wild jonquil bulbs in the late summer to my flower garden and had them come up and bloom right beside the daffodils to really add to the color display. Even though they are smaller they are still vibrant and add a lot of scent to the garden that the more showy daffodils simply don't. Jonquils also are more adaptable to reproducing by seed than daffodils, allowing them to spread and expand their growing area quickly.

Some great links to other sites with lots of info on planting and showing spring flowers:

American Daffodil Society

USDA Daffodil Info

USDA Jonquil Info

Growing Daffodil Bulbs

Growing Daffodils in Cold Climates

Info on Jonquils

Transplanted Wild Jonquils Around a Tree In Our Pasture

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5 comments

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Pretty, pretty, pretty!!! I enjoyed looking at your photos and learning a bit more about narcissus, daffodils and jonquils. Thanks!


Mardi profile image

Mardi 6 years ago from Western Canada and Texas Author

Thanks Peggy. I love the spring flowers here, they are really beautiful. Can't wait for the iris plants to start to bloom!


Varenya profile image

Varenya 6 years ago

What a feast for the eyes, the photos are all beautiful (that of the daffodils in your garden is my favorite!); what a loveable hub!


Mardi profile image

Mardi 6 years ago from Western Canada and Texas Author

Varenya, thanks for stopping by. I happen to love that picture too, have it as my desktop right now.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Just had to take another look. Spring is such a pretty time of year! Our Easter lilies are a bit late in blooming this year because of the abnormal freezing temps. this past winter...but are about to open and show their beautiful faces soon. Enjoy your narcissus this year! :-)

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