Daffodil, Narcissus, Jonquil. First, let’s settle the names. The official botanical name of the whole genus is Narcissus. Daffodil is the common name. Jonquil is a “species name” within the Narcissus genus. This means that certain daffodils are called Narcissus jonquilla. Some people, particularly in our Southern states, use Jonquil as a common name for the whole genus, but it’s really the species name for a minor group having multiple smaller flowers on each stem. So when you’re using the common name, all colors, sizes and types are Daffodils. If you get into the botanical or Latin names, they all begin with Narcissus (the “genus”) and end with a different “species” name.
The famous Poet’s Daffodil, for example, is Narcissus poeticus. It has that name simply because Linneaus, the man who devised our botanical nomenclature, decided that a certain wild species (white petals with a small bright-colored center) was the one that inspired the ancient tale of Narcissus, handed down by the poets since ancient Greek times. (See photos below.)
Jonquil? And as mentioned, a small, multi-flowered yellow daffodil type is botanically Narcissus jonquilla. Of course, you don’t need to know the botanical names to enjoy daffodils. Just choose the colors and types you like. But the story of Narcissus is interesting.
The tragic love story of Narcissus and Echo. Remember Narcissus? Know people who are narcissistic? It all flows from the famous Greek myth about Narcissus, a handsome youth, who was granted his great good looks by the Gods. But as in most myths, there was a catch. His beauty was permanent and he was immortal, as long as he never viewed his own reflection. Once, while Narcissus was hunting in the woods, a nubile wood nymph named Echo saw him from her hiding place behind a tree. He was so handsome, she fell desperately in love, but Narcissus spurned her. She was so devastated by his rejection that she wept and wailed, and was ultimately consumed by her love. She pined so that soon all that was left of her was her voice. The prophecy of her name had come true. But the Gods were not pleased. The goddess, Nemesis, heard about poor Echo, and lured Narcissus to a shimmering lake. There in his vain state, he was unable to resist gazing at his own reflection, and fell in love with himself! As he gazed, the divine penalty took effect, and he simply faded away. In his place sprang up the golden flower that bears his name today. Now you know how Daffodils came to be, and also why psychologists warn vain patients about the “Narcissus complex.”
From the ancient poets to Wordsworth and beyond. For all time, it seems, the daffodil has inspired the poet, and even today, nothing connotes the renewal of spring to us as dramatically as a drift of fresh daffodils swaying in a meadow. William Wordsworth, the legendary British poet, perhaps said it best when he wrote of the flowers in hisclassic poem, “Daffodils”, published in 1804. This is the poem that so artfully describes the poet viewing “ten thousand” daffodils beside a lake, and is also the source of the phrase, “Dancing with Daffodils.”
The wild daffodils. While some of the original "species" bulbs are still available from specialty sources, the original daffodils were generally much smaller than most of the sturdy, tall hybrids we enjoy. At left, (top photo at left) the small cone-shaped species is called Narcissus bulbicodium, and is always nicknamed “Hoop Petticoat.”
The white, flattened flower (center photo) with the brilliant orange cup is the Poet’s Daffodil, the wild form or at least very ancient variety which Linneas, called Narcissus poeticus. He simply decided this is the one originally connected to the early poet’s story of Narcissus.
The bottom photo is an example of Narcissus jonquilla, with several small flowers on each stem. There are several species that have this form, with either single or multiple bright yellow blooms, all “miniatures” compared to today’s flowers.
From humble little wildflowers like these, the hybridizers have created thousands of daffodils for today's gardeners, featuring all sizes and a host of colors from the classic golden yellows and whites to bright oranges and even pinks.
The "Poet's Daffodil" in the wild today. Incredibly, this remarkable wildflower, Narcissus poeticus is alive and well in the Ukraine. In fact, they have a preserve there called "The Valley of the Narcissi." where over 600 acres of these magnificent flowers bloom each spring in the wild.
Ray Allen 09/25/08