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"Daffodil" redirects here. For other uses, see Daffodil (disambiguation).
"Daffodils" redirects here. For the Swedish musical group, see The Daffodils. For the poem by William Wordsworth, see I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
Subgenera, Species

See text.

Narcissus /nɑrˈsɪsəs/ is a genus of mainly hardy, mostly spring-flowering, bulbous perennials in the Amaryllis family, subfamily Amaryllidoideae.[1] Various common names including daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil are used to describe all or some of the genus. They are native to meadows and woods in Europe, North Africa and West Asia, with a center of distribution in the Western Mediterranean.[2] The number of distinct species varies widely depending on how they are classified, with the disparity due to similarity between species and hybridization between species. The number of defined species ranges from 26 to more than 60, depending on the authority.[3] Species and hybrids are widely used in gardens and landscapes.


The derivation of the Latin narcissus (from the ancient Greek νάρκισσος) is unknown. It may be a loanword from another language. It is frequently linked to the Greek myth of Narcissus, who became so obsessed with his own reflection that as he knelt and gazed into a pool of water, he fell into the water and drowned. In some variations, he died of starvation and thirst. In both versions, the narcissus plant sprang from where he died. However, there is no evidence for this popular derivation, and the person's name may have come from the flower's name. Pliny wrote that the plant was named for its narcotic properties (ναρκάω narkao, "I grow numb" in Greek).[4] Again, this explanation lacks any real proof and is largely discredited.[5]


"Narcissus" is the most commonly used plural, but "narcissi" and "narcissuses" are also acceptable plurals in both British and American English usage.[5]


The name "daffodil" is derived from an earlier "affodell", a variant of Asphodel. The reason for the introduction of the initial "d" is not known, although a probable source is an etymological merging from the Dutch article "de", as in "De affodil". From at least the 16th century, "Daffadown Dilly", "daffadown dilly", and "daffydowndilly" have appeared as playful synonyms of the name.

In common parlance and in historical documents, the term "daffodil" may refer specifically to populations or specimens of the wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus.[5]


Narcissus grow from pale brown-skinned spherical bulbs with pronounced necks. The leafless stems, appearing from early to late spring depending on the species, bear from 1 to 20 blooms.[6] Each flower has a central bell-, bowl-, or disc-shaped corona surrounded by a ring of six floral leaves called the perianth which is united into a tube at the forward edge of the 3-locular ovary. The three outer segments are sepals, and the three inner segments are petals. 

Flower colour varies from white through yellow to deep orange. Breeders have developed some daffodils with double, triple, or ambiguously multiple rows and layers of segments, and several wild species also have known double variants.[6]

The seeds are black, round and swollen with a hard coat.

Selected species


Narcissus is a popular subject as an ornamental plant for gardens, parks and as cut flowers, providing colour from the end of winter to the beginning of summer in temperate regions. Thousands of varieties and cultivars are available from both general and specialist suppliers. They are normally sold as dry bulbs to be planted in late Summer and Autumn (Fall). Over 140 varieties have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[7]

See also List of Award of Garden Merit narcissus

Royal Horticultural Society classification system

For horticultural purposes, all Narcissus cultivars are split into 13 divisions by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS),[6] based partly upon flower form and partly upon genetic background. Growers register new daffodil cultivars by name and color with the Royal Horticultural Society, which is the international registration authority for the genus. More than 27,000 names were registered as of 2008. Registered daffodils are given a division number and colour code.[8]


The divisions are:[9]

  • 1
Trumpet Daffodil Cultivars
One flower to a stem; corona (“trumpet”) as long as, or longer than the perianth segments (“petals”).
  • 2
Large-cupped Daffodil Cultivars
One flower to a stem; corona (“cup”) more than one- third, but less than equal to the length of the perianth segments (“petals”).
  • 3
Small-cupped Daffodil Cultivars
One flower to a stem; corona (“cup”) not more than one-third the length of the perianth segments (“petals”).
  • 4
Double Daffodil Cultivars
One or more flowers to a stem, with doubling of the perianth segments or the corona or both.
  • 5
Triandrus Daffodil Cultivars
Characteristics of N. triandrus clearly evident: usually two or more pendent flowers to a stem; perianth segments reflexed.
  • 6
Cyclamineus Daffodil Cultivars
Characteristics of Narcissus cyclamineus clearly evident: one flower to a stem; perianth segments significantly reflexed; flower at an acute angle to the stem, with a very short pedicel (“neck”).
  • 7
Jonquilla and Apodanthus Daffodil Cultivars
Characteristics of Sections Jonquilla or Apodanthi clearly evident: one to five (rarely eight) flowers to a stem; perianth segments spreading or reflexed; corona cup-shaped, funnel-shaped or flared, usually wider than long; flowers usually fragrant.
  • 8
Tazetta Daffodil Cultivars
Characteristics of Section Tazettae clearly evident: usually three to twenty flowers to a stout stem; perianth segments spreading not reflexed; flowers usually fragrant.
  • 9
Poeticus Daffodil Cultivars
Characteristics of the Narcissus poeticus group: usually one flower to a stem; perianth segments pure white; corona very short or disc-shaped, usually with a green and/or yellow centre and a red rim, but sometimes of a single colour; flowers usually fragrant.
  • 10
Bulbocodium Daffodil Cultivars
Characteristics of Section Bulbocodium clearly evident: usually one flower to a stem; perianth segments insignificant compared with the dominant corona; anthers dorsifixed (i.e., attached more or less centrally to the filament); filament and style usually curved.
  • 11
    Split-corona Daffodil Cultivars
    Corona split - usually for more than half its length.
    • Collar Daffodils
      Split-corona daffodils with the corona segments opposite the perianth segments; the corona segments usually in two whorls of three.
    • Papillon Daffodils
      Split-corona daffodils with the corona segments alternate to the perianth segments; the corona segments usually in a single whorl of six.
  • 12
Other Daffodil Cultivars
Daffodil cultivars which do not fit the definition of any other division.
  • 13
Daffodils Distinguished Solely by Botanical Name
Hybrids distinguished solely by botanical name are also assigned to this Division.

Colour code

Daffodils may be self-colored—i.e., both perianth and corona identical in color and shade—or the colors between the perianth and corona may differ widely. Some perianths and some coronas may also contain more than one color or shade. Prevalent colors are all shades and tones of yellow, white, orange, pink, red and green. Pinks vary from apricot to rose in shades from pale to deep, and some more recent cultivars have hints of lavender or lilac. Reds vary from orange-red to salmon red to near scarlet. Pink, red, orange and green tones are mainly confined to the corona. However, breeders are currently working against the genus' natural pigmentation and genetic barriers to create cultivars in which pink, rose, red, orange and green tones suffuse or "bleed" from the more highly colored coronas onto the perianth segments of white or yellow. There is an increasing number of commercially available varieties which display this enhanced coloration.

RHS Color Classification[8]
Code color
W White
G Green
Y Yellow
P Pink
O Orange
R Red

The color classification lists the perianth color and then the corona color. In the case of multiple colors, the perianth colors are assigned from the outer edge of the perianth segments inward to their juncture with the base of the corona, while the corona colors are assigned from the base of the corona outward to the rim. Thus, Actaea, a Poeticus (Division 9) Daffodil, is officially classified as 9 W-GYR, while Accent, a Large Cup (Division 2) Daffodil possessing a white perianth and a pink corona, is officially classified as 2 W-P.


All Narcissus species contain the alkaloid poison lycorine, mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves.[10][11]

Members of the monocot subfamily Amaryllidoideae present a unique type of alkaloids, the norbelladine alkaloids, which are 4-methylcatechol derivatives combined with tyrosine. They are responsible for the poisonous properties of a number of the species. Over 200 different chemical structures of these compounds are known, of which 79 or more are known from Narcissus alone.[12]

Health problems related to toxicity

On 1 May 2009 a number of schoolchildren fell ill at Gorseland Primary School in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England, after a daffodil bulb was added to soup during a cookery class. The bulbs could often be confused with onions, thereby leading to incidents of accidental poisoning.[11]

One of the most common dermatitis problems for florists, "daffodil itch" involves dryness, fissures, scaling, and erythema in the hands, often accompanied by subungual hyperkeratosis (thickening of the skin beneath the nails). It is blamed on exposure to calcium oxalate in the sap.[13][14] It has long been recognised that some cultivars provoke dermatitis more readily than others. The cultivars 'Actaea', 'Camparelle', 'Gloriosa', 'Grande Monarque', 'Ornatus', 'Princeps' and 'Scilly White' are known to do so.[15]


In the traditional Japanese medicine of kampo, wounds were treated with narcissus root and wheat flour paste;[16] the plant, however, does not appear in the modern kampo herb list. The Roman physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus listed narcissus root in De Medicina among medical herbs, described as emollient, erodent, and "powerful to disperse whatever has collected in any part of the body". In one scientific study, the ethanol extract of the bulbs was found effective in one mouse model of nociception, para-benzoquinone induced abdominal constriction, but not in another, the hot plate test.[17]

Daffodils are grown commercially near Brecon in Powys, Wales, to produce galantamine, a drug used to combat Alzheimer's disease.[18]

Cultural importance

There is no clear evidence that the flower's name derives directly from the Greek myth of Narcissus, who drowned while gazing at his own reflection in the water. However, the two are firmly linked in popular culture, as illustrated in Salvador Dalí's painting Metamorphosis of Narcissus.[5]

Another Greek myth finds Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, lured to her doom in the Underworld by the god Hades while picking a narcissus flower.[19]

The narcissus is perceived in the West as a symbol of vanity, in the East as a symbol of wealth and good fortune.

The narcissus is a national flower symbolising the new year or Newroz in the Kurdish culture.

In ancient China, a legend about a poor but good man holds he was brought many cups of gold and wealth by this flower. Since the flower blooms in early spring, it has also become a symbol of Chinese New Year. Narcissus bulb carving and cultivation is even an art akin to Japanese bonsai. If the narcissus blooms on Chinese New Year, it is said to bring extra wealth and good fortune throughout the year. Its sweet fragrances are highly revered in Chinese culture.

In classical Persian literature, the narcissus is a symbol of beautiful eyes, together with other flowers that equal a beautiful face with a spring garden, such as roses for cheeks and violets for shining dark hair.

The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, where it is traditional to wear a daffodil or a leek on Saint David's Day (March 1). In Welsh the daffodil is known as "Peter's Leek", cenhinen Bedr or cenin Pedr).

In some countries the yellow variation is associated with Easter. The German for daffodil is Osterglocke, that is "Easter bell."

William Wordsworth's short poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud has become linked in the popular mind with the daffodils that form its main image.

The Japanese visual novel Narcissu contains many references to the narcissus.

Various cancer charities around the world, including the American Cancer Society,[20] New Zealand Cancer Society,[21] Cancer Council Australia,[22] and the Irish Cancer Society,[23] use the daffodil emblem as a fundraising symbol. "Daffodil Days", first instituted in Toronto in 1957 by the Canadian Cancer Society,[24] are organized to raise funds by offering the flowers in return for a donation.

See also


External links

  • American Daffodil Society - ADS
  • DaffSeek - Database of more than 20,000 daffodils most with photos
  • DaffLibrary - More than 1,000 daffodil publications
  • Daffodils at the Royal Horticultural Society
  • Wildflowers of Israel
  • Daffodil Festivals, Gardens, & Fields 2010
  • Narcissus perennialization Research Newsletter Number 3. (April 2004) Flower Bulb Research Program Department of Horticulture, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University
  • International Bulb Society

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