Narcissus (plant)

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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.
This article is about the plant genus (Daffodils). For the mythological hunter who fell in love with his own reflection, see Narcissus (mythology).
Narcissus poeticus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Subfamily: Amaryllidoideae
Tribe: Narcisseae
Genus: Narcissus
Type species
Narcissus poeticus L.

See text.

Narcissus /nɑrˈsɪsəs/ is a genus of mainly hardy, mostly spring-flowering, bulbous perennials in the Amaryllis family, subfamily Amaryllidoideae.[2] 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.[3] 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 has ranged widely depending on the authority. Species and hybrids are widely used in gardens and landscapes.


Narcissus shoots emerging, with sheathed leaves

Narcissus floral morphology

'Narcissus flower showing an outer white corolla with a central yellow corona (paraperigonium)
N. cyclamineus showing refexed perianth
N. bulbocodium showing reduced perianth and prominent corona
Solitary Narcissus flower, prior to opening
N. triandrus showing pendant orientation
Narcissus bulb with shoot

The Narcissi are perennial herbaceous geophytes which grow from pale brown-skinned spherical bulbs with pronounced necks, and reach heights varying from 5–80 cm depending on species. Dwarf forms include N. asturiensis which reaches 5–8 cm, while N. italicus may grow as high as 80 cm.


The leafless stems, appearing from early to late spring depending on the species, bear from 1 to 20 blooms.[4] Stem shape depends on the species, some are highly compressed with a visible seam, while others are rounded. The stems are upright and located at the centre of the leaves. It is hollow in the upper portion but towards the bulb is more solid and filled with a spongy material. In a few species such as N. hedraeanthus the stem is oblique.


Narcissi flowers are hermaphrodite and tripartite. Like many monocotyledons, the perianth (perigonium) is homochlamydeous, that is undifferentiated into separate calyx (sepals) and corolla (petals), but rather has six tepals. In all Narcissus species except N. cavanillesii the perianth consists of three main parts (i) a proximal floral tube, formed by fusion of basal segments of the tepals, (ii) free tepals, which are reflexed from the perianth, and (iii) a distal corona. The transition point between the floral tube and corona is marked by insertion of the free tepals on the fused perianth.[5]

While the perianth may point forwards, in some species such as N. cyclamineus it is folded back (reflexed), while in some species such as N. bulbocodium, it is reduced to a few barely visible pointed segments with a prominent corona. The most striking feature of Narcissi flowers is the corona (trumpet) formed during floral development from stamens which fuse into a tubular structure, and the anthers reduced. At the base of the corona the fragrances which attract pollinators are formed. All species produce nectar at the top of the ovary.

In Narcissus the corona (paraperigonium) is a tubular outgrowth, developing from the perianth and situated above the floral tube. The floral tube is formed by the fusion of the six tepal bases to create a narrow cylindrical to funnelform perianth.[6] Flowers are generally showy and some are fragrant. Flower colour ranges from white to pale or deep yellow, although N. viridiflorus is green and night flowering. Flower diameter varies from 12 to 125 mm., and may be solitary such as the Bulbocodii and most Pseudonarcissi, or on racemose inflorescences which appear umbellate, with up to 15 or 20 flowers such as N. papyraceus and N. tazetta.[6]

The flowers are notable for their striking corona, a cylindrical central cone which may be bell-, bowl-, or disc-shaped extending beyond the tepals, and their floral tube.[6] The corona is 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 tepal segments are sepals, and the three inner segments are petals. Coronal morphology varies from the tiny pigmented disk of N. serotinus or the rudimentary structure in N. cavanillesii to the elongated trumpets of the Pseudonarcissi (trumpet daffodils). Floral tubes can range from long and narrow in the Apodanthi and Jonquillae to rudimentary (N. cavanillesii). The other major variable is flower orientation which may be pendant (N. triandrus, N. alpestris) horizontal (N. gaditanus, N. poeticus) or erect (N. cavanillesii, N. serotinus).[6]

Narcissi demonstrate exceptional floral diversity (and sexual polymorphism),[5] primarily by corona size and floral (corolla) tube length, associated with pollinator groups (see for instance Figs. 1 and 2 in Graham and Barrett[6]). Barrett and Harder (2005) describe a number of different floral patterns. The predominant patterns they name the 'daffodil' and 'paperwhite' forms. A less common form is the 'triandrus' seen in only two species, N. albimarginatus and N. triandrus. Each form corresponds to a different group of pollinators (See Pollination).[5]

The daffodil form which includes Pseudonarcissi and Bulbocodii has a relatively short, broad or highly funnelform tube which grades into an elongate corona, which is large and funnelform (funnel-like), forming a broad, cylindrical or trumpet-shaped perianth.

The paperwhite form including Jonquillae, Apodanthi, and Narcissus has a relatively long, narrow tube and a short, shallow, flaring corona. The flower is horizontal and fragrant.

The triandrus form combines features of both the daffodil and paperwhite forms with a well-developed long, narrow tube and an extended bell-shaped corona of almost equal length. This occurs only in N. albimarginatus a Moroccan endemic, and N. triandrus. The flowers are pendant.[5]

Androecium and Gynoecium 

There are six stamens. The ovary is inferior and there is a pistil with a three lobed stigma and style.


The leaves are linear to strap shaped. The emerging plant generally has two leaves, but the mature plant usually three, rarely four in number, and they are covered with a cutin containing cuticle, giving them a waxy appearance. Leaf colour is light green to blue-green. In the mature plant the leaves extend higher than the flower stem, but in some species the leaves are low hanging. The leaf base is encased in a colourless sheath. After flowering the leaves turn yellow and die back once the seed pod is ripe.


The fruit consists of loculicidalcapsules containing numerous seeds which are black, round and swollen with a hard coat. Most species have 12 ovules and 36 seeds, although some species such as N. bulbocodium have more up to a maximum of 60. Seeds take five to six weeks to mature. The seeds of Jonquillae and Bulbocodium are wedge-shaped and matte black, while those of other sections are ovate and glossy black. The seeds are dispersed by wind or by animals, a gust of wind or contact with a passing animal being sufficient to release mature seeds.


The bulbs have a corky base plate from which arise the root hairs in a ring around the edge, which grow up to 40 cm in length. Once the leaves die back in summer, the roots also wither. After some years the roots shorten pulling the bulbs deeper into the ground (contractile roots). The bulbs develop from the inside pushing the older layers outwards, becoming brown and dry, forming an outer shell. Up to 60 layers have been counted in some wild species. The flower stalk which will start to grow in the following spring, develops within the bulb surrounded by two to three deciduous leaves and their sheaths. The flower stem lies in the axil of the second true leaf.


As with all Amarylidaceae genera, Narcissus contains unique isoquinoline alkaloids. The first alkaloid to be identified was lycorine, from N. pseudonarcissus in 1877. These are considered a protective adaptation, and are utilised in the classification of species. Nearly 100 alkaloids have been identified in the genus, about a third of all known Amaryllidaceae alkaloids, although not all species have been tested. Of the nine alkaloid ring types identified in the family, Narcissus species most commonly demonstrate the presence of alkaloids from within the Lycorine (lycorine, galanthine, pluviine) and Homolycorine (homolycorine, lycorenine) groups. Hemanthamine, Tazettine, Narciclasine, Montanine and Galanthamine alkaloids are also represented. The alkaloid profile of any plant varies with time, location, and developmental stage.[7] Narcissi also contain fructans and low molecular weight glucomannan in the leaves and plant stems.


Narcissus was first described by Theophrastus (Θεόφραστος, c 371 - c 287 BC) in his Historia Plantarum (Greek: Περὶ φυτῶν ἱστορία) as νάρκισσος, referring to N. poeticus.[8] Theophrastus' description was frequently referred to at length by later authors writing in Latin such as Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD) from whom came the Latin form narcissus (see also Culture). Another much cited Greek authority was Dioscorides (Διοσκουρίδης, 40 AD – 90 AD) in his De Materia Medica (Greek: Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς).[9] Both authors were to remain influential till at least the Renaisance, given that their descriptions went beyond the merely botanical, to the therapeutic. William Turner in his A New Herball (1562) cites all three extensively in his description of the plant and its properties.[10]

The phylogeny remains relatively unsettled.[7] The genus Narcissus belongs to the Narcisseae tribe, one of 13 within the Amaryllidoideae subfamily of the Amaryllidaceae family.[7][11] It is one of two sister clades corresponding to genera in the Narcisseae,[12] being distinguished from Sternbergia by the presence of a paraperigonium, and is monophyletic.[6]


The infrageneric taxonomy of Narcissus has proved very complex and difficult to resolve. This is due to a nunber of factors, including the diversity of the wild species, the ease with which natural hybridisation occurs, and extensive cultivation and breeding accompanied by escape and naturalisation.[7] Historically many Narcissi were considered as separate genera. For instance Haworth (1831)[13] considered many species to be grouped under separate genera (sixteen in all), e.g. Hermione (=Tazettae). The situation was further confused by including many unknown or garden varieties, and it was not till the work of Baker (1875) that the wild species were all grouped as sections under one genus, Narcissus, the exception being the monotypic Tapeinanthus.[14]

A common modern classification system has been that of Fernandes (1968, 1975)[15][16] as modified by Blanchard (1990)[17][18] and Mathew (2002).[19] Fernandes described two subgenera (Hermione, Narcissus) and ten sections (Apodanthi, Aurelia, Bulbocodii, Ganymedes, Jonquillae, Narcissus, Pseudonarcissi, Serotini, Tapeinanthus, Tazettae). The RHS currently lists ten sections, three of which are monotypic (contain only one species), while two others only containing two species. Most species are placed in Pseudonarcissus[20] While infrageneric groupings within Narcissus have been relatively constant, their status (genera, subgenera, sections, subsections, series, species) has not.[7][19]

Phylogenetic analysis supports the infrageneric division of Narcissus into two clades corresponding to the subgenera Hermione and Narcissus, but does not support monophyly of all sections, with only Apodanthi demonstrating clear monophyly, corresponding to Clade III of Graham and Barrett (2004), although some other clades corresponded approximately to known sections.[6] An extended analysis with additional taxa confirmed this pattern.[21]

Subgenera and sections[edit]

  • subgenus Hermione (Haw.) Spach.
    • Aurelia (Gay) Baker (monotypic)ĩ
    • Serotini Parlatore (2 species)
    • Tazettae de Candolle (16 species) (syn. Hermione (Salisbury) Sprengel, in Fernandes' scheme)
  • subgenus Narcissus L.
    • Apodanthi A.Fernandes (6 species)
    • Bulbocodium de Candolle (11 species)
    • Ganymedes (Haworth) Schultes f. (monotypic)
    • Jonquilla de Candolle (8 species)
    • Narcissus L. (2 species)
    • Pseudonarcissus de Candolle (36 species)
    • Tapeinanthus (Herbert) Traub (monotypic)


Estimates of the number of species in Narcissus have varied widely, from 16 to 160.[17] Graham and Barrett in 2004 assigned about 65 species to the genus.[6] As of September 2014, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families accepts 52 species, along with at least 60 hybrids.[22] Another important source is the Royal Horticultural Society's Botanical Classification[20] which is the basis of their International Daffodil Register,[23] which is searchable.[24]

Selected species include;



Illustration of N. poeticus by Matthias de l'Obel, in Icones stirpium (1591)

The derivation of the Latin narcissus (Greek: νάρκισσος) is unknown. It may be a loanword from another language. It is frequently linked to the Greek myth of Narcissus described by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, 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. Although Ovid appeared to describe the plant we now know as Narcissus 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 ‘narce narcissum dictum, non a fabuloso puero’ (named narcissus from narce, not from the fabulous boy), i.e. that it was was named for its narcotic properties (ναρκάω narkao, "I grow numb" in Greek), not from the legend.[7][25][26] The Poet's Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus), which grows in Greece, has a fragrance that has been described as intoxicating. Again, this explanation lacks any real proof and is largely discredited.[27] Linnaeus used the Latin name for the plant in formally describing the genus, although Matthias de l'Obel (1538-1616) had previously used the name in describing various species of Narcissi in his Icones stirpium of 1591, and other publications.[28] "Narcissus" is the most commonly used plural, but "narcissi" and "narcissuses" are also acceptable plurals in both British and American English usage.[27]


The name "daffodil" is derived from an earlier "affodell", a variant of asphodel, itself a loanword coming from French via Latin and ultimately Greek.[29] 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.[27]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Narcissi occur primarily in Southwestern Europe and the Mediterranean region, with a centre of diversity in the Iberian Peninsula. Their range extends into southern France and Italy, with a few species occurring in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.[6][7] N. elegans occurs on the North West African Coast (Morocco and Libya), as well as the coastline of Corsica, Sardinia and Italy, and N. bulbocodium between Tangier and Algiers and Tangier to Marrakech, but also on the Iberian Peninsula. N. serotinus is found along the entire Mediterranean coast. N. tazetta occurs as far east as Iran and Kashmir. Since this is one of the oldest species found in cultivation it is likely to have been introduced into Kashmir. N. poeticus and N. pseudonarcissus have the largest distribution ranges. N. poeticus ranges from the of the Pyrenees along the Romanian Carpathians to the Black Sea and along the Dalmatian coast to Greece. N. pseudonarcissus ranges from the Iberian Peninsula, via the Vosges Mountains to northern France and Belgium, and the United Kingdom where there are still wild stocks in Southern Scotland. The only occurrence in Luxembourg is located near Lellingen, in the municipality of Kiischpelt. In Germany it is found mainly in the nature reserve at Perlenbach-Fuhrtsbachtal and the Eifel National Park, where in the spring at Monschau the meadows are teeming with yellow blooms. One of the most easterly occurrences can be found at Misselberg near Nassau on the Lahn.

N. pseudonarcissus growing in the Perlenbach-Fuhrtsbachtal reserve in Germany

However unlike the above examples most species have very restricted ranges which may overlap resulting in natural hybrids. For instance in the vicinity of the Portuguese city of Porto where both N. pseudonarcissus and N. triandrus occur there are found various intersections of the two species while in a small area along part of the Portuguese Montego river are found intersectional hybrids between other hand, one finds intersections between N. scaberulus and N. triandrus.


Their native habitats are very varied, being found predominantly in open spaces ranging from low marshes to rocky hillsides and montane pastures, and including grassland, scrub, woods, river banks and rocky crevices.[6][7] Although requirements vary, overall there is a preference for acidic soils, although some species will grow in limestone. Narcissus scaberulus will grow on granite soils where it is moist in the growing season but dry in the summer, while Narcissus dubius thrives best in regions with hot and dry summers. Narcissus pseudonarcissus in Germany, which is poor in lime, grows in small groups on open mountain meadows or in mixed forests of fir, beech, oak , alder, ash and birch trees with well-drained soil.


Narcissus species are winter-growing and summer-dormant bulbs. While most species flower in late winter to spring, five species are autumn flowering (N. broussonetii, N. cavanillesii, N. elegans, N. serotinus, N. viridiflorus).[6] Narcissus species hybridise readily, although the fertility of the offspring will depend on the parental relationship.[7]


The flowers are insect pollinated, the major pollinators being bees, butterflies, flies, and hawkmoths, while the night flowering N. viridiflorus is pollinated by crepuscular moths. Pollination mechanism fall into three groups corresponding to floral morphology (see Description - Flowers).

  1. 'Daffodil' type. Pollinated by bees seeking pollen from anthers within the corona. The broad perianth allows bees (Bombus, Anthophora, Andrena) to completely enter the flower in their search for nectar and /or pollen. In this type the stigma lies in the mouth of the corona, extending beyond the six anthers, whose single whorl lies well within the corona. The bees come into contact with the stigma before their legs, thorax and abdomen contact the anthers, and this approach herkogamy causes cross pollination.
  2. 'Paperwhite' type. These are adapted to long-tongued Lepidoptera, particularly sphingid moths such as Macroglossum, Pieridae and Nymphalidae but also some long-tongued bees, and flies, all of which are primarily seeking nectar. The narrow tube admits only the insect's proboscis, while the short corona serves as a funnel guiding the tip of the proboscis into the mouth of the perianth tube. The stigma is placed either in the mouth of the tube, just above two whorls of three anthers, or hidden well below the anthers. The pollinators then carry pollen on their probosci or faces. The long tongued bees cannot reach the nectar at the tube base and so collect just pollen.
  3. 'Triandrus' type. Pollinated by long-tongued solitary bees (Anthophora, Bombus) which forage for both pollen and nectar. The large corona allows the bees to crawl into the perianth but then the narrow tube prevents further progres, causing them to probe deeply for nectar. The pendant flowers prevent pollination by lepidoptera. In N. albimarginatus there may be either a long stigma with short and mid length anthers or a short stigma and long anthers (dimorphism). In N. triandrus there are three patterns of sexual organs (trimophism) but all have long upper anthers but vary in stigma position and the length of the lower anthers.[5][6]

Allogamy (outcrossing) on the whole is enforced through a late-acting (ovarian) self-incompatibility system, but some species such as N. dubius and N. longispathus are self-compatible producing mixtures of selfed and outcrossed seeds.[5]

Pests and diseases[edit]


Aphids such as Macrosiphum euphorbiae can transmit viral diseases which affect the colour and shape of the leaves. These include the Narcissus common latent virus (Carlavirus), Narcissus degeneration virus, Narcissus late season yellows virus, Narcissus latent virus, Narcissus mosaic virus (Potexvirus), Narcissus symptomless virus, Narcissus yellow stripe virus (Potyvirus) and Raspberry ringspot virus. These are primarily diseases of commercial nurseries. The growth inhibition caused by viral infection can cause substantial economic damage.


More problematic for non commercial plants is the fungus Fusarium bubigenum which causes rotting of the bulbs and yellowing of the leaves. Since the fungus can remain in the soil for many years it is necessary to remove infected plants immediately, and to avoid planting further narcissi at that spot for a further five years. Not all species and cultivars are equally susceptible. Relatively resistant forms include N. triandrus, N. tazetta and N. jonquilla. Another fungus which attacks the bulbs is Botrytis narcissicola, particularly if improperly stored. Copper sulfate is used to combat the disease, and infected bulbs are burned. Other fungi affect the remainder of the plant. Sclerotinia polyblastis causes brown spots on the flower buds and stems, especially in damp weather and is a threat to the cut flower industry. Ramularia vallisumbrosae is a leaf spot virus found in warmer climates. Another leaf virus is Stagonospora curtisii.


Three types of fly have larvae that attack Narcissus plants, the Narcissus Bulb Fly Merodon equestris, and two species of hoverflies, the Lesser Bulb Flies Eumerus tuberculatus[30] and Eumerus strigatus. The flies lay their eggs at the end of June in the ground around the narcissi, a single female fly being able to lay up to fifty eggs. The hatching larvae then burrow through the soil towards the bulbs and consume their interiors. They then overwinter in the empty bulb shell, emerging in April to pupate in the soil, from which the adult fly emerges in May. Mites infest mainly stored bulbs and multiply particularly at high ambient temperature, but do not attack planted bulbs. These are, however, susceptible to nematodes which cause the leaves to turn yellow and become mishapen. The main offender here is Ditylenchus dipsaci. Infested bulbs have to be destroyed, and where infestation is heavy avoiding planting further narcissi for another five years. Snails are another predator.


Many of the smallest species have become extinct, requiring vigilance in the conservation of the wild species.[7][25][31]


Narcissus are popular as ornamental plants for gardens, parks and as cut flowers, providing colour from the end of winter to the beginning of summer in temperate regions. They have been cultivated from at least as early as the sixteenth century in the Netherlands, and became an important floricultural crop in Western Europe in the late nineteenth century. They are now one of the major ornamental spring flowering bulb crops, being produced both for their bulbs and cut flowers, though cultivation of private and public spaces is greater than the area of commercial production.[7] Over a century of breeding has resulted in thousands of varieties and cultivars being available from both general and specialist suppliers.[6] They are normally sold as dry bulbs to be planted in late Summer and Autumn (Fall). They are one of the most economically important ornamental plants.[6][7] Plant breeders have developed some daffodils with double, triple, or ambiguously multiple rows and layers of segments.[4] Much of the breeding programs have concentrated on the corona (trumpet or cup), in terms of its length or shape, or even as in varieties erived from N. poeticus a very reduced form.

Classification system[edit]

A daffodil's trumpet

For horticultural purposes, all Narcissus cultivars are split into 13 divisions as first described by Kingston (1998),[32] for the the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS),[4] 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. Their International Daffodil Register is updated annually.[19] More than 27,000 names were registered as of 2008.[33] Registered daffodils are given a division number and colour code[34] such as 5 W-W ('Thalia').[35] In horticultural usage it is common to also find an unofficial Division 14: Miniatures, which although drawn from the other 13 divisions, have their miniature size in common.[36] Over 140 varieties have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (See List of Award of Garden Merit narcissus).

Horticultural divisions[edit]

The divisions are:[37]

  • 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[edit]

Narcissus 'Geranium'

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[34]
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.[38][39] 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.[40]

The toxic effects of ingesting Narcissus products for both man and animals (such as cattle, goats, pigs and cats) have long been recognised and they have been used in suicide attempts. Ingestion of N. pseudonarcissus or N. jonquilla is followed by salivation, acute abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, then neurological and cardiac events, including trembling, convulsions, and paralysis. Death may result if large quantities are consumed. The toxicity of Narcissus varies with species, N. poeticus being more toxic than N. pseudonarcissus, for instance. Nor is the distribution of toxins even within the plant, for instance there is a five times higher concentration of alkaloid in the stem of N. papyraceous than in the bulb, making it dangerous to herbivores more likely to consume the stem than the bulb, and is part of the plant's defence mechanisms.[7]

Not all Narcissus species are equally dangerous. The bulbs of N. poeticus, for example, are more dangerous than those of N. pseudonarcissus. Neither do all plant tissues have the same concentration or profile of alkaloids. Thus, the alkaloid content of N. papyraceus is five times higher in the aerial part than in the bulbs, being toxic for herbivorous mammals. The distribution of the alkaloids in the plant tissues can be related with the plant's defense mechanism such as protection from parasites. The bulbs can also be toxic to other nearby plants, including roses, rice, and cabbages, inhibiting growth.[7] For instance placing cut flowers in a vase alongside other flowers shortens the life of the latter.[41]


Many cases of poisoning or death have occurred when narcissi bulbs have been mistaken for leeks or onions and cooked and eaten. Recovery is usually complete in a few hours without any specific intervention. In more severe cases involving ingestion of large quantities of bulbs activated charcoal, salts, and laxatives may be required, and for severe symptoms intravenous atropine and emetics or stomach pumping may be indicated. However ingestion of large quantities accidentally is unusual because of a strong unpleasant taste. When narcissi were compared with a nunber of other plants not normally consumed by animals, narcissi were the most repellant, specifically N. pseudonarcissus Consequently Narcissus alkaloids have been used as repellents and may also discourage fungi, molds, and bacteria.[7]

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.[39]

Topical effects[edit]

One of the most common dermatitis problems for flower pickers, packers, florists and gardeners, "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, chelidonic acid or alkaloids such as lycorine in the sap, either due to a direct irritant effect or an allergic reaction.[42][43] It has long been recognised that some cultivars provoke dermatitis more readily than others. N. pseudonarcissus and the cultivars 'Actaea', 'Camparelle', 'Gloriosa', 'Grande Monarque', 'Ornatus', 'Princeps' and 'Scilly White' are known to do so.[7][44]

If bulb extracts come into contact with wounds, both central nervous system and cardiac symptoms may result. The scent can also cause toxic reactions such as headaches and vomiting from N. bulbocodium.[7]


Traditional medicine[edit]

Despite the lethal potential of Narcissus alkaloids, they have been used for centuries as traditional medicines for a variety of complaints, including cancer. N. poeticus is described in the Bible in the treatment of cancer.[41] In the Classical Greek world Hippocrates (ca. B.C. 460–370) recommended a pessary prepared from Narcissus oil for uterine tumors, a practice continued by Pedanius Dioscorides (ca. A.D. 40–90) and Soranus of Ephesus (A.D. 98–138) in the first and second centuries A.D, while the Roman Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79), advocated topical use.[41] The bulbs of N. poeticus contain the antineoplastic agent narciclasine. This usage is also found in later Arabian, North African, Central American and Chinese medicine during the Middle Ages.[41] In China N. tazetta var. chinensis was grown as an ornamental plant but the bulbs were were applied topically to tumors in traditional folk medicine. These bulbs contain pretazettine, an active antitumor compound.[7][45][46]

Narcissus products have received a variety of other uses. 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". N. tazetta bulbs were used in Turkey as a remedy for abscesses in the belief they were antiphlogistic and analgesic. Other uses include the application to wounds, strains, painful joints and various local ailments as an ointment called ‘Narcissimum’. Powdered flowers have also been used medically, as an emetic, a decongestant and for the relief of dysentery, in the form of a syrup or infusion. The French used the flowers as an antispasmodic, the Arabs the oil for baldness and also an aphrodisiac. In the eighteenth century the Irish herbal of John K’Eogh recommended pounding the roots in honey for use on burns, bruises, dislocations and freckles, and for drawing out thorns and splinters. N. tazetta bulbs have also been used for contraception, while the flowers have been recommended for hysteria and epilepsy. A homeopathic medicine made from bulbs was prescribed for bronchitis and whooping cough.[7] In the traditional Japanese medicine of kampo, wounds were treated with narcissus root and wheat flour paste;[47] the plant, however, does not appear in the modern kampo herb list.

There is also a long history of the use of Narcissus as a stimulant and to induce trance like states and hallucinations. Thus Socrates referred to the narcissus as the ‘Chaplet of the infernal Gods’.[7]

Biological properties[edit]

Extracts of Narcissus have demonstrated a number of potentially useful biological properties including antiviral, prophage induction, antibacterial, antifungal, antimalarial, insecticidal, cytotoxic, antitumor, antimitotic, antiplatelet, hypotensive, emetic, acetylcholine esterase inhibitory, antifertility, antinociceptive, chronotropic, pheromone, plant growth inhibitor, and allelopathic.[7] An ethanol extract of Narcissus bulbs was found effective in one mouse model of nociception, para-benzoquinone induced abdominal constriction, but not in another, the hot plate test.[48] Most of these properties are due to alkaloids, but some are also due to mannosa-binding lectins. The most-studied alkaloids in this group are galanthamine, lycorine, narciclasine, and pretazettine.

It is likely that the the traditional use of narcissi for the treatment of cancer was due to the presence of isocarbostyril constituents such as narciclasine, pancratistatin and their congeners. N. poeticus contains about 0.12g of narciclasine per kg of fresh bulbs.[41]

Acetylcholine esterase inhibition has attracted the most interest as a possible therapeutic intervention, with activity varying by a thousand fold between species, and the greatest activity seen in those that contain galanthamine or epinorgalanthamine.[21]


Off all the alkaloids, only galanthamine has made it to therapeutic use in man, as the drug galantamine for Alzheimer's disease. Galanthamine is an acetylcholine esterase inhibitor which crosses the blood brain barrier and is active within the central nervous system.[7] Daffodils are grown commercially near Brecon in Powys, Wales, to produce galantamine, a drug used to combat Alzheimer's disease.[49]

Commercial uses[edit]

Throughout history the scent of narcissi has been an important ingredient of perfumes. This quality comes from essential oils rather than alkaloids.[7]



N. triandrus 'Thalia
A field of daffodils in Cornwall, UK
Narcissus tazetta is a protected flower in Israel

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

The narcissus is perceived in the West as a symbol of vanity, in the East as a symbol of wealth and good fortune.[citation needed] 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. In some countries the yellow variation is associated with Easter. The German for daffodil is Osterglocke, that is "Easter bell."

Although prized as an ornamental flower, some people consider narcissi unlucky, because they hang their heads implying misfortune, and hence refuse to have them in the house.[7] White narcissi are especially associated with death, especially the pure white N triandrus 'Thalia', and hence are considered grave flowers.[50] Indeed in Ancient Greece narcissi were planted near tombs. Robert Herrick, in his Hesperides (1648) describes them as portents of death. This association also appears in the myth of Persephone and the underworld (see Culture).

When a daffadill I see,
Hanging down his head t'wards me,
Guesse I may, what I must be:
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead:
Lastly, safely buryed.

(Herrick, 'Divination by a Daffadill', Hesperides XLVIII).

The Arts[edit]

Narcissi have been used decoratively for a long time, a wreath of white-flowered Tazetta having been found in an ancient Egyptian grave. They have also frequently appeared or been referred to in literature and the visual arts. The Greek poet Stasinos (flourished ca. 800-900 BC) mentioned them in the Cypria in which he sings of the flowers of the island of Cyprus "She clothed herself with garments which the Graces and Hours had made for her and dyed in flowers of spring -- such flowers as the Seasons wear -- in crocus and hyacinth and flourishing violet and the rose's lovely bloom, so sweet and delicious, and heavenly buds, the flowers of the narcissus and lily. In such perfumed garments is Aphrodite clothed at all seasons. " (ll. 1-7).

Virgil (70 BC – 19 AD), the first known Roman writer to refer to the narcissus, does so in several places, for instance twice in the Georgics, Book four, l. 122 "nec sera comantem Narcissum" (nor had I passed in silence the late-flowering narcissus)[51] and l. 159 "pars intra septa domorum, Narcissi lacrymam" (some within the enclosure of their Hives, lay Narcissus' tears). Virgil refers to the cup shaped corona of the narcissus flower, allegedly containing the tears of the youth Narcissus.[52] Milton makes a similar analogy in his Lycidas "And Daffodillies fill their Cups with Tears".[53] Virgil also mentions narcissi three times in the in the Eclogues. In the second book l. 48 "Narcissum et florem jungit bene olentis anenthi" (joins the narcissus and flower of sweet-smelling Anise),[54] also the fifth book, l. 38 "pro purpureo narcisso" (in lieu of the empurpled narcissus).[55] For the idea that Narcissus could be purple, see also Dioscorides (επ ενίων δε πορφυροειδές).[9] This is thought to be an allusion to the purple rimmed corona of N. poeticus.[56] Finally in the eighth book of the Eclogues, Virgil writes, l. 53 "narcisso floreat alnus" (the alder with narcissus bloom).[57]

Narcissus in art

Poussin: Death of Narcissus, 1630
Waterhouse: Echo and Narcissus, 1903

Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD) was also familiar with narcissi, in his recounting of the self-loving youth who is turned into the flower, in the third book of his Metamorphoses l. 509 "croceum pro corpore florem inveniunt, foliis medium cingemtibus albis"[58] (They came upon a flower, instead of his body, with white petals surrounding a yellow heart)[59] and also the fifth book of his Fasti l. 201 "Tu quoque nomen habes cultos, Narcisse, per hortos"[60] (You too, Narcissus, were known among the gardens).[61] Although there is no clear evidence that the flower's name derives directly from the Greek myth this link between the flower and the myth became firmly part of western culture, as typified by Poussin's painting shown here, with flowers sprouting around the dying youth,[62] or Salvador Dalí's painting Metamorphosis of Narcissus.[27] The Narcissus story has been popular with painters and he is frquently depicted with flowers to indicate this association, for instance François Lemoyne and John William Waterhouse. This theme of metamorphosis was broader than just Narcissus, for instance see Crocus and Hyacinth.[62]

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.[63] Hence, the narcissus is listed as having been sacred to both Hades and Persephone. 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.[citation needed]

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

The plant gives its name to the 1947 British film Black Narcissus, based on the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden.


Various cancer charities around the world, including the American Cancer Society,[64] New Zealand Cancer Society,[65] Cancer Council Australia,[66] and the Irish Cancer Society,[67][67] use the daffodil emblem as a fundraising symbol. "Daffodil Days", first instituted in Toronto in 1957 by the Canadian Cancer Society,[68] are organized to raise funds by offering the flowers in return for a donation.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]


Societies and organisations[edit]