Bright bouquets of daffodils dot my front yard. Several years ago, my sons and I enjoyed the custom of throwing the bulbs high in the air and then planting them where they landed. The result has been an attention getter and sometimes traffic stopper as people linger to enjoy our whimsical planting scheme. I like to think maybe that’s the way God planted His gorgeous garden, laughing with joy at the beautiful surprises each plant will bring. I enjoy the memories of that day with my sons and like Wordsworth, . . “my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.”
These spontaneous splashes of color in my yard go by many names - daffodil, narcissus and jonquil. Which is correct? All derive from the Narcissus family, and their blossoms are very similar. It is the length of the trumpet and the number of flowers per stem that distinguish one from the other. Daffodils have one blossom per stem while jonquils have clusters of blossoms.
Confusion continues with the origin of the plants’ names. It is possible that because daffodils were similar to the asphodel flowers, which are members of the lily family, that the name became corrupted over time. Daffodil could also come from the English word affodyle, which means “that which comes early,” referring to its early appearance in the spring.
Myths tell their own version of how the flower came to be. Long ago, according to Greek mythology, a mountain nymph named Echo fell madly in love with a mortal named Narcissus. He was a handsome but vain youth who was preoccupied with his own interests: hunting and admiring his good looks. He rudely ignored Echo’s efforts to interest him, so she sadly hid in a cave, suffering in grief until she died and faded away. Only her voice remained, which still haunts caves and canyons today. After her death, Narcissus became so absorbed in looking at his reflection in the water, that one day he fell in and drowned. The gods changed him into the flower that bears his name to remind us of the consequences of vanity and egoism. Similar versions of this myth exist in Roman, Arabic, Egyptian, Spanish, and Portuguese cultures.
The Romans believed that sap from the daffodil could heal wounds. However, it contains tiny sharp crystals called calcium oxalate that may actually irritate the skin. These crystals keep animals from eating the plant and are the reason that when daffodils are combined with other flowers in a vase, other flowers will wilt.
The powerful perfume of the daffodil can sometimes be overpowering, a reference to the word narcotic, which is related to narcissus. Although narcissus bulbs are poisonous, they have been used for centuries in medicines when mixed with other ingredients.