Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 897 Narcissus spp.

Common Names: daffodil, narcissus, jonquil, Lent lily, Easter flower, butter-cup Family: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis Family)
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The sight of daffodils glowing golden on a gray spring day is one of the cheeriest and most welcome signs of spring!


Daffodils are lilylike perennials with numerous narrow, straplike leaves, and a single flowering stalk, all arising from a subterranean bulb. Leaves grow upward, then droop out and down, and range from 6-30 in (15-76 cm) in length. Flower stalks range from 4 in (10 cm) tall in the miniature varieties, up to 24 in (61 cm) tall in standard varieties. There can be from one to a dozen or more flowers per stalk. Flower colors are mostly white and yellow, but some kinds have orange, pink or red coronas. There are about 50 species of daffodils, and many thousands of named cultivars and hybrids of garden origin. In fact, the Royal Horticultural Society International Daffodil Register lists more than 26,400 named daffodils! No doubt many of these are no longer in cultivation, but the Throckmorton Daffodil Data Bank, an up-to-date product of the American Daffodil Society, lists 14,771 currently registered daffodil cultivars. There are so many daffodils in cultivation that horticulturists have classified them into 13 divisions.

The names "daffodil" and "narcissus" are interchangeable, but the name "jonquil" is used for Division 7 daffodils, characterized by very narrow, almost cylindrical, leaves and 1-5 (rarely up to 8) fragrant flowers per stem. Most other daffodils have flat leaves. All daffodils have some fragrance, and the jonquils and tazettas (Division 8) have the strongest. Most daffodils bloom within 4 to 6 weeks after the first appearance of foliage in the very early spring. Depending on location and cultivar, the blooming season can last from 8 weeks in northern climates to almost six months in the Lower South.

a pot of daffodils
Daffodils are easy to grow in containers and are especially fun to "force" into bloom on the windowsill during winter months.
Planting clumps of daffodils is a cheery and inexpensive way to brighten dark corners of your yard - and there's no better way to cheer up the house after a long winter than with a big bouquet of daffs fresh cut from the garden.


Daffodils originated in Portugal, Spain, the southern coast of France and the northern coast of Morocco. Currently, daffodils are grown commercially in Cornwall, England, Holland and in California, Oregon and Washington. Prior to 1940, they also were grown on a large scale in Florida, the Carolinas and Virginia.


Daffodils do best in rich, neutral or nearly neutral, well-drained sandy loam. Do not amend sandy soils with organic material. Lighten heavy clay soils with sand or Perlite spaded into the bed. Soil should be free of tree and shrub roots. Daffodils, like most perennials, do not do well with root competition from trees or shrubs. A well-prepared bed pays dividends for years to come with bigger flowers and bigger bulbs. Daffodil foliage should not be cut or braided as this reduces the ability of the plant to produce and store energy for next year's growth and flowering. Light: All daffodils do well with morning sun, then partial shade or dappled shade the rest of the day. The early-blooming varieties also do well with full sun all day. Miniature daffodils and those with red, orange or white in their coloration require 1/4 to 1/2 day of shade. Heat and intense sun late in the blooming season cause flowers to fade sooner. Moisture: For maximum flowering, daffodils should be watered deeply once a week from the time the foliage breaks ground in early spring until the blooms have faded. After that they can be ignored. Daffodils will rot if soil is not well drained. If you have soggy ground, elevate your beds and add sand or Perlite to lighten heavy soils. You may also improve the drainage by placing an inch of small gravel in the bottom of the planting hole. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Some cultivars are hardy only to Zone 6, and many of the tazettas (Division 8) are hardy only to Zone 8. Almost all daffodils do well as far south as USDA Zones 7 and 8. The Florida Daffodil Society has a list of species and cultivars suitable for Florida. Propagation: Most daffodil species reproduce by seed. It takes 5-7 years for a seedling to bloom, so most gardeners propagate daffodils by planting bulb divisions which form naturally. The rate of bulb division varies widely and is dependent on so many different factors that no one fully understands the process. You should be able to divide daffodil bulbs after two years of growth. Commercial growers in Holland propagate daffodils by tissue culture, slicing bulbs into as many as 64 thin slices, each of which then grows into a bulblet in about 10 weeks. Daffodil fanciers create hybrids and new cultivars by dusting pollen from one plant onto the pistil of another, and then harvesting the seeds.


Daffodils look best and actually grow better if they are planted in clumps rather than long, skinny rows. The space between the clumps can be used for other deep-rooted or dense perennials that take over after the daffodils have finished blooming. As a general rule, plant daffodil bulbs in a hole 6-8 in (15-20 cm) deep. Plant tiny bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. If they are a bit too shallow, and the soil is not too heavy, most bulbs will pull themselves down into the soil. Never put fertilizer in the planting hole! When bulbs are initially planted in the fall, broadcast a little super phosphate over the bed. In late winter, before the foliage breaks ground, broadcast a balanced fertilizer. In future years, fertilize in late winter and again immediately after blooming. Fertilize with 5-10-15 or 6-24-24. If you have a fireplace, cover your bulb bed with up to 1/2 in (1.3 cm) of wood ashes once a year. (This also helps neutralize your soil if it is too acidic.) Mulch daffodil beds with 3-4 in (7.6-10 cm) of oak leaves or pine straw.

This is 'Trevithian', one of the jonquils (Division 7).


Medieval Arabs used juice of the wild daffodil, N. pseudonarcissus as a cure for baldness. It is said that Roman soldiers carried daffodils with them to eat if they should be mortally wounded in battle, in order to hasten their journey to the underworld. Daffodils were first written about by the Greek Theophrastus around 300 BC in his 'Enquiry into Plants.' Mohammed wrote, "He that has two cakes of bread, let him sell one of them for some flowers of the Narcissus, for bread is food for the body, but Narcissus is food of the soul." In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water and so was turned into a flower by the gods.


A small percentage of people get "daffodil itch" or "lily rash" from the calcium oxalate and irritating alkaloids in daffodil sap.

John Van Beck/Steve Christman 01/07/01; updated 06/04/03; updated 08/20/03, 10/03/05

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Narcissus species profiled on Floridata:

Narcissus spp.

( daffodil, narcissus, jonquil, Lent lily, Easter flower, butter-cup )

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