Narcissus bulbs are easy to cultivate, and in spring, they yield splendid, elegant, refined, highly fragrant flowers with a strong symbolic significance. Their legend dates back to ancient Greece, with the myth of Narcissus, and even today, mentioning this flower evokes unattainable and extravagant beauty. Narcissus (also called daffodil or jonquil) is a plant that can also be found in the wild. It’s exceptionally beautiful, which has led to the development of dozens of more commercially oriented varieties over the years. These can be easily cultivated by planting the bulbs. In this sense, there are many similarities with another bulbous flower, the Dutch tulip.
So, let’s get to know this flowering plant better and learn how to cultivate it correctly, starting with the bulbs.
Narcissus, Botanical Identification
The scientific name Narcissus identifies a genus of plants native to the European continent, belonging to the botanical family Amaryllidaceae. In Italy, these plants can still be found in the wild in various regions. The main species are also known by common names, including:
- Poeticus (wild narcissus or May flower)
- Jonquilla (jonquil)
- Pseudonarcissus (wild daffodil)
Countless hybrid varieties of narcissus have been developed by humans. Generally, these are cultivated in domestic gardens.
Characteristics of the Daffodil Plant
Narcissus is a perennial, herbaceous, bulbous plant that blooms in spring. A “bulbous plant” means it produces leaves and flowers from an underground bulb. This bulb also sends out small roots that anchor it in the soil. Daffodil bulbs come in various shapes, usually oval to pear-shaped, sometimes slightly globular, and they are covered with a thin brown tunic that protects them from decay in the soil. From the bulb, an upright stem grows, which can vary in length from 20 to 70 cm. This stem is formed by long, lanceolate leaves that wrap around like a ribbon to create a light green sheath of thick consistency. Additional leaves emerge from the bulbs, forming almost a clump with several upright stems.
The flowers, usually white or yellow, are located at the top of the stem. They are typically solitary, but in some species, such as Narcissus jonquilla, they can be numerous. These flowers consist of soft petals that open outward, arranged around a central corona. In some varieties, this structure, strongly pronounced in certain varieties, gives the flower the shape of a trumpet. There are numerous hybrid varieties of this plant, featuring different color combinations. For example, there are bicolored daffodil varieties where white and yellow alternate on the petals and the corona. In these species, the corona usually has a more intense color than the petals. Some varieties differ from the typical white or yellow narcissus and have shades of pink or orange.
Therefore, there is a wide selection of bulbs available, making them ideal for garden cultivation. You can find a variety of suitable options for your garden here.
Interesting Facts About Narcissus Bulbs
One interesting fact about narcissus bulbs is that they contain a toxic alkaloid called narcissine. This alkaloid is highly dangerous to both animals and humans and can even be lethal. There is a risk of accidental ingestion, as the bulbs resemble those of some wild onions. We have previously discussed other poisonous plants that grow naturally in our country, such as mandrake and common thornapple. In this case, we also recommend exercising maximum caution, especially if you are not perfectly familiar with the plant species you are handling.
Origin of the Name Narcissus
The narcissus flower is not only beautiful but also fragrant. The name’s origin comes from the Greek word narkào, meaning “to stupefy,” and refers to its fragrance. In ancient times, it was believed to have soporific and narcotic properties (another term derived from the Greek narkào).
Narcissus is also a famous character from ancient mythology, with the legend narrated by both the Greeks and the Romans. The most well-known Greek myth tells the story of a young hunter renowned for his cruelty and beauty. Narcissus, the son of the nymph Liriope and the river god Cephisus, rejects everyone who loves him, be they women or men. The gods punish him for this by making him see his own reflection in a stream of water. He falls in love with his own image. When he realizes that what he loves is merely his own reflection, unable to move away from the source, he gradually withers away and dies.
There are various versions and nuances of this legend, but the essence remains the same: the jonquil flower has been associated with the myth of unattainable beauty since ancient times. Additionally, the terms “narcissus” and “narcissistic” derive from this legend, representing vain individuals excessively pleased with their external appearance.
How to Cultivate Narcissus Bulbs and Fill Your Garden with Flowers
Narcissus bulbs are very easy to cultivate, as they give rise to robust and hardy plants. They are ideal for planting in gardens, enhancing flower beds or dedicated spaces. They can also be grown in pots to add color to balconies and terraces. This plant is a perennial plant that renews itself naturally at the end of each cycle. It blooms in spring, and once the flowers have withered, they can be cut. The rest of the plant should be left to dry naturally. In the following season, the bulb will give rise to new plants and blooms.
Considering these characteristics, choosing the right location for your Daffodil plants is crucial.
Choosing the Location
It is not advisable to plant jonquil bulbs in areas of the garden that will need to be mowed later on. When cultivating narcissus, it is important to designate areas that will not be touched by mechanical tools in the spring and summer. A raised flower bed, bordered by bricks, is ideal for reserving a space specifically for narcissus. If you want to combine this flowers with other plants, consider choosing other bulbous plants like tulips. This way, you will achieve a varied and prolonged flowering period. Medium to large-sized evergreen plants are also suitable; Daffodil will add a touch of light and color to them. Another suggestion is to choose different varieties with varying flowering times, ensuring a staggered bloom.
Narcissus prefers a semi-shaded position, sheltered from winds. Very dark and humid areas of the garden should be avoided.
When and How to Plant
The best time to plant narcissus bulbs is from October to December, before the arrival of frost. The bulb should be planted with the pointed end upwards at a depth of about 7-8 cm. The distance between each bulb should be at least 25 cm. If planted in pots, they can be grouped closely together. This will result in a lush and beautiful plant.
Immediately after planting the narcissus bulbs, you can water them thoroughly. This will be the first and only time you water the underground bulbs in the autumn-winter period. Daffodil is a plant with very low water requirements and is content with rainwater. This especially applies to outdoor cultivation. For potted cultivation, be careful not to let the soil dry out too much.
In spring and summer, water should be applied only after long periods of particularly hot weather with little natural precipitation.
Among the different types of agricultural soil, the ideal one for cultivating narcissus bulbs is loose, medium-textured soil. This avoids water stagnation, which the plant is sensitive to. Therefore, jonquil also adapts well to sandy soils and, logically, avoids clayey, hard, and compact soils that do not drain water well. Fertilization is not necessary during the bulb growth phase; in fact, an excess of organic matter can be problematic. However, in spring, just before flowering, a light fertilization is advisable, perhaps with earthworm humus or domestic compost. The fertilizer can be spread on the soil between the plants, and a light hoeing can be done, which will also remove weeds. For potted cultivation, any type of flower potting soil can be chosen. To improve drainage, you can mix it with river sand.
Propagation of Narcissus Bulbs
As mentioned earlier, narcissus is a plant that multiplies naturally and renews itself every year. The underground bulbs multiply, giving rise to new spring blooms. Every two years, always in autumn, it is advisable to dig the soil a bit, divide the bulbs that can be moved, and plant them elsewhere. This way, you will have young and well-distributed jonquil flowers in your garden.
Narcissus Pests and Diseases
Narcissus is a very resistant plant that is not particularly susceptible to attacks from parasitic insects. The main issues arise from cryptogamic diseases, which are due to water stagnation. By preventing water stagnation, you protect your flowers from the risk of diseases. Stagnation can lead to bulb decay, white mold on leaves, blossom end rot, flower wilting, necrosis, and more. Therefore, it is important to ensure adequate drainage to keep the soil well-drained.
Harvesting and Enjoying Narcissus Blooms
Narcissus blooms in spring, creating a captivating display of delicate colors and fragrances in your garden. When the flowers are in full bloom, they can be cut and used to create beautiful floral arrangements. To harvest narcissus flowers, use sharp, clean scissors or garden shears to cut the stems above the leaves. This allows the plant to continue its growth cycle and bloom again in the following year.
Caution: Toxicity of Narcissus
While the beauty of narcissus is enchanting, it’s important to note that the plant is toxic if ingested. All parts of the plant, especially the bulbs, contain toxic compounds. Therefore, it should be kept away from children and pets. When handling narcissus, wear gloves to prevent skin irritation, as some people might be sensitive to the plant’s compounds. Be cautious and responsible when growing daffodil in households with small children or pets.