The nar­cis­sus fam­ily

Landscape (UK) - - Our Landscape - Words: Ni­cola Stocken

Daf­fodils come from the large nar­cis­sus fam­ily of ap­prox­i­mately 150 species, mainly orig­i­nat­ing from north Africa and Europe. The name comes from Nar­cis­sus, a beau­ti­ful young Greek. He be­came so in­fat­u­ated with his own re­flec­tion in a pool that he pined away and was turned into a flower by the gods. The daf­fodil’s nod­ding head rep­re­sents Nar­cis­sus lean­ing over the water to gaze at his re­flec­tion. For cen­turies, swathes of the wild daf­fodil, Nar­cis­sus pseudonar­cis­sus, have be­witched passers-by. The most fa­mous are the Ull­swa­ter daf­fodils, im­mor­talised by Wordsworth in his fa­mous poem. There is un­cer­tainty as to whether this wild species is a true Bri­tish na­tive. One the­ory is that it was in­tro­duced by the Ro­mans, nat­u­ral­is­ing over time. The old­est daf­fodils known to still be in cul­ti­va­tion in­clude species such as Nar­cis­sus x medi­o­lu­teus, which can be traced back to the 16th cen­tury. It was not un­til the 19th cen­tury that in­creas­ing num­bers of hy­brids were bred from species daf­fodils col­lected in Europe. Over the en­su­ing cen­turies, 156,000 dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars have been de­vel­oped from the orig­i­nal species. This cre­ates ever greater di­ver­sity in terms of size and shape. To bring or­der to this mul­ti­plic­ity, daf­fodils are split into 13 di­vi­sions, based upon dis­tinct char­ac­ter­is­tics. These start at divi­sion 1, trum­pet daf­fodils, which have flow­ers with cups longer than the petals. They in­clude ‘Topolino’, and ‘Ri­jn­veld’s Early Sen­sa­tion’. Divi­sion 2 are large cupped flow­ers that are not longer than the petals. An ex­am­ple is ‘St Pa­trick’s Day’. Other di­vi­sions in­clude va­ri­eties that have mul­ti­ple heads such as ‘Martinette’.

Com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tics

De­spite their dif­fer­ences, all daf­fodils share much in com­mon, in­clud­ing be­ing mildly toxic if eaten. All de­velop from bulbs, which spend most of the year ly­ing dor­mant un­der­ground. They awaken in au­tumn to pro­duce roots and then, dur­ing winter or spring, send up leaves. These vary in shape from strap-like to slen­der or grass-like. Leaf­less stems fol­low, bear­ing flow­ers singly or up to a score in num­ber. Each flower con­sists of six spread­ing petals or pe­ri­anth seg­ments in shades of yel­low or white and oc­ca­sion­ally green, sur­round­ing a corona. This varies in size and shape from a shal­low cup to a long trum­pet that, ac­cord­ing to va­ri­ety, is coloured yel­low, white, or­ange or pink. Mod­ern breed­ers have de­vel­oped daf­fodils with coronas that fea­ture beau­ti­fully con­trasted rims or frilled edges. There are also va­ri­eties such as ‘Reg­gae’, that come with coronas in pink shades. Other de­vel­op­ments in­clude cul­ti­vars with clus­ters of minia­ture petals, or petaloids, in the cen­tre. “Daf­fodils can be grown from seed. It is years be­fore they flower, and yet more while they are tri­alled and proven to be good gar­den plants,” says Chris­tine. This is the rea­son why so many of to­day’s most pop­u­lar daf­fodils are old va­ri­eties that have stood the test of time. One of the best known is ‘Tête-à-tête’. This pro­lific flow­erer, reg­is­tered in 1949, is both early-flow­er­ing and long-last­ing. A minia­ture daf­fodil, its ra­di­ant yel­low flow­ers will brighten even the dullest of spring days. Un­de­mand­ing and easy to grow, they are ideal for borders, rock­eries and con­tain­ers for a sunny win­dowsill; or grow them in bold drifts nat­u­ralised in grass. “It was bred by Alec Gray, who founded our nurs­ery,” adds Chris­tine. “It is the universal, all-round daf­fodil.”

‘Tête-à-tête’ is a gar­dener’s favourite as its long-last­ing flow­ers are pro­duced freely and reach only 6in (15cm) in height. Broadleigh Gar­dens Barr, Taun­ton, Som­er­set TA4 1AE. www.broadleigh­bulbs.co.uk. The gar­den opens in aid of char­ity all year...

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