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The Meaning Of Daffodils

Updated on August 16, 2014

Daffodil Meanings And Myths, Surprising Daffodil Facts And A Little Poetry Too

I find the fragrance of the Narcissus beautiful, but it was thought to be dangerously narcotic by the Victorians. They believed that Daffodils emitted harmful 'effluvia', or amorphous emanations that might stir the unwary with immoderate thoughts.

These days most people see Narcissus or Daffodils as the flowering sunshine of spring, raising the spirit and stirring the poet or artist in us. Here is a miscellany of poems, myths, fancies and facts about the Daffodil.

"And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils." William Wordsworth

photo montage by learnscope

The Romans Probably Brought The Daffodil To Europe

Strangely, the Romans thought the sap of the Daffodil was useful in the treatment of wounds. However the sap contains Calcium Oxylate crystals which irritate the skin...so it must have been a painful treatment.

By the 16th century this was a treatment that was discouraged: an English herbalist, John Parkinson wrote: "Know I not any in these days, with us, that apply any of them as a remedy for any griefe, whatsoever Gerard or others have written."

In fact the daffodil contains powerful alkaloids and no part of the plant should be eaten. Children, livestock and curious dogs need to be protected from deliberate or accidental poisoning. The website of the Nova Scotia Museum has a brief but good overview of the plants toxicity.

The Myth Of Echo And Narcissus

Echo And Narcissus by John William Waterhouse

A Greek myth tells of a beautiful youth called Narcissus. A nymph called Echo fell in love with him, but Narcissus was only interested in his own beauty. Echo retreated weeping to a cave and died of a broken heart, leaving just her voice behind her. Narcissus meanwhile carried on admiring his reflection in a glassy pool, and alas, fell in, drowned and became a daffodil.

This is a harsh judgement on the lovely Daffodil, and a rather strange tale, the moral of which is never clear to me.

What does this Echo and Narcissus myth mean ?

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On Thursday 15th April 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote about the daffodils in her journal:

Thursday 15th April 1802

"The wind was furious... the Lake was rough... When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up.

But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road.

I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing."

Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal , Thursday, 15 April 1802

So Dorothy Wordsworth Wrote About The Daffodils First

When William Wordsworth went for a walk with his sister Dorothy that April morning, little did he or the world know that this was the beginning of a poem that would become one of the most well known and quoted poems in the world.

What is less well known is that William wrote "I wandered lonely as a cloud..." some 2 years after the event. It was Dorothy Wordworth who sat down at her journal on their return to describe the event. It was Dorothy Wordsworth who wrote about the Daffodils, and it's an interesting thought that had she not, William might have forgotten all about them.

"I gazed - and gazed - but little thought

what wealth the show to me had brought:" W.W.

Where Were They Walking And Why?

photo by lazlo

For a truly in depth lens that looks at Wordsworth, his poem, his life, and the beautiful landscape in which he wandered, White Moss has a wonderful lens: william-wordsworths-daffodils that covers it completely.

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

in such a jocund company:

I gazed - and gazed - but little thought

what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

by William Wordsworth

How Much Of This Poem Can Say From Memory?

How Much Of This Poem Can Say From Memory?

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To Daffodils

By Robert Herrick

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see

You haste away so soon;

As yet the early-rising sun

Has not attain'd his noon.

Stay, stay,

Until the hasting day

Has run

But to the even-song;

And, having pray'd together, we

Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,

We have as short a spring;

As quick a growth to meet decay,

As you, or anything.

We die

As your hours do, and dry

Away,

Like to the summer's rain;

Or as the pearls of morning's dew,

Ne'er to be found again.

by Robert Herrick

Which kind of Daffodils do you like best?

Which kind of Daffodils do you like best?

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The Little Book of Daffodils

This is such a sweet little book, part of the Flora's Gems series. It contains a wonderful collection of poetry and history about Daffodils, but don't be deceived by it's prettiness...it also contains a solid section on the classification of the various Narcissi and some good insights into the growing of different kinds of Daffodils.

To An Early Daffodil

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thou yellow trumpeter of laggard Spring!

Thou herald of rich Summer's myriad flowers!

The climbing sun with new recovered powers

Does warm thee into being, through the ring

Of rich, brown earth he woos thee, makes thee fling

Thy green shoots up, inheriting the dowers

Of bending sky and sudden, sweeping showers,

Till ripe and blossoming thou art a thing

To make all nature glad, thou art so gay;

To fill the lonely with a joy untold;

Nodding at every gust of wind to-day,

To-morrow jewelled with raindrops. Always bold

To stand erect, full in the dazzling play

Of April's sun, for thou hast caught his gold.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Daffodils Are Very Easy To Grow...

photo by fabulous nature

Narcissus prefer a reasonably fertile, well-drained soil that gets some moisture during the growing season, but will grow almost anywhere in any soil and any aspect including sun, partial shade.

They will even grow at the base of deciduous trees if they can catch the spring rain, however dry the spot gets for the rest of the year, providing that there is some sunlight.

"Dark green blades and bright faces,

It will bloom in all places.

You might as well give it room

The daffodil intends to bloom."

You can read the whole poem by Linda Burns here

Planting Daffodil Bulbs

There is really nothing to planting daffodil bulbs. You just need healthy bulbs, reasonable soil and a bit of sunshine.

  1. Choose your daffodils from the vast selection available bearing in mind what size, form and colour will suit the place where they are to flower.

  2. Choose and order new bulbs in summer from a good supplier.

  3. Choose bulbs that feel firm, and don't accept any that have mould or soft spots

  4. Plant them straight away, don't keep them mouldering away in a plastic bag

  5. Plant in beds and borders, containers and lawns

  6. Plant daffodil bulbs in pots and in the ground in Autumn. Their leaves will start to emerge in early spring, and the flowers will follow soon after.

  7. Plant the bulb two times its own depth whilst the soil is still workable with its pointy nose upwards

  8. Mark the spot!

Looking After Daffodils

Once daffodils stop flowering it is so easy to forget them but they will benefit from a simple after care program...

the following steps will ensure that they remain healthy and flower well for many years.

  1. Dead head when flowering is over, by cutting the flowering stem right off at the base.

  2. Feed the leaves with a good seaweed fertilizer, leave the green leaves untill they turn yellow and don't tie them up.

  3. Mark the site where they grow so that you don't dig them up accidentally.

Daffodil Problems: Narcissus Bulb Fly - Flower buds eaten:

In warm winters, the Narcissus bulb fly may thrive and eat the flower buds, which is really upsetting. Control is difficult, and pesticides aren't nice so...

  1. Hoe very lightly around the plants to expose the Narcissus fly larvae in winter, and close any soil cracks in summer where they might colonize and breed.

Daffodil Problems: Blind Clumps - Lots of leaves but no flowers at all

If Daffodils stop flowering after some years, the bulbs may have become overcrowded. This is called "growing blind". Dig up the bulbs and divide the clumps in Autumn into smaller clusters, and follow the basic maintenance programe the following spring after flowering as described earlier.

  1. Lift and divide the clumps of Daffodils into smaller batches in Autumn, replant and follow the basic after care programe.

Buy Daffodil Bulbs In Autumn...

Will you remember to buy daffodil bulbs next autumn?

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, By Algy via Wikimedia Commons

Daffodils Bring the Spring

by Linda Burns

We all love the daffodils,

We place upon our window sills.

We like how their pretty faces,

Brighten up our living spaces.

classyGals says "I always place a pretty bouquet of daffodils on my dining room table in Spring. They brighten up the entire room. Angel Blessings"

Watch The Daffodils Open...

But did you know that Daffodils make other flowers wilt when placed in a mixed vase...their sap contains Calcium Oxalate which is an irritant.

Please leave your Daffodil snippets and greetings here:

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    • orange3 lm profile image

      orange3 lm 5 years ago

      I love the first sight of the Daffodils in the spring! I know when I see them, it's time to get garden ready :)

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 6 years ago from Pittsburgh

      I always place a pretty bouquet of daffodils on my dining room table in Spring. They brighten up the entire room. Angel Blessings**

    • greenspirit profile image
      Author

      poppy mercer 6 years ago from London

      @JoyfulReviewer: How extraordinary...I've never heard of this before. I know Lilly pollen is fatal to cats and dogs, and narcissus bulbs are deadly if eaten, but never their pollen...good to know.

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image

      JoyfulReviewer 6 years ago

      I love daffodils but, unfortunately, I'm allergic to them.

    • greenspirit profile image
      Author

      poppy mercer 6 years ago from London

      thank you so much kathy

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 6 years ago

      I ADORE them.. so cheerful. Blessed lens for a cheery yellow tribute to a lovely flower.

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