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Genus: Narcissus

Narcissus Species in
Family: Amaryllidaceae

Possibly 50-60 species from Europe, North Africa and Asia, radiating from Spain. They are bulbous plants flowering in autumn, winter or spring with erect or prostrate linear leaves, rarely more than four per bulb, and flowers solitary or in umbels of two to twenty or more. They grow in habitats varying from maritime sand to high alpine slopes, woodlands and rock pockets. Most species appreciate abundant, but never stagnant, water in their growing season and in the wild are often found in very wet situations. In their resting season they appreciate dryer conditions, but few species benefit from complete drying out. Leaves are green or glaucous, usually flat or concave on the inner surface and round or keeled on the outer, sometimes nearly cylindrical towards the tip. Stems are round or compressed, often 2-edged, smooth or striate. The flowers (unless double, which is rare in the wild) have six perianth segments, properly three petals and three petal-like sepals but here referred to as tepals; and a corona which may be short or almost absent ('cup') or longer than the petals ('trumpet'). The predominant colour of the flowers is white or yellow, but N. elegans and N. serotinus have orangish coronas and N. poeticus and N. radiiflorus have a red or orange edge to the corona. The seeds are black and ripen in late spring or early summer (except the autumn flowering species which ripen in late autumn or early winter). If sown fresh they may germinate immediately or at the beginning of the next growing season. If sown later than early autumn they may not germinate until more than a year later. Bulbs vary from almost spherical to elongated, and have several fleshy white scales. Some species increase by division of bulbs, but in others division in the wild is unusual.

A difficult genus botanically, probably with too many species presently recognised several of which were described over 200 years ago from cultivated plants and have no exact counterparts extant in the wild. Many species are ill-defined and it is difficult to know where the borderline between them lies. Measurements are notoriously variable, and those given here should be used only as a guide. Comparative measurements, e.g. between petal and corona lengths can be equally unreliable. The genus is divided into ten distinct sections, and the following classification is adapted from Prof. Abilio Fernandes Keys to the Identification of Native and Naturalised Taxa of the Genus Narcissus L. published in the R.H.S. Daffodil and Tulip Year Book 1968, with the addition of Section Tapeinanthus which was not then recognised as part of the genus. The key is taken from Narcissus, a Guide to Wild Daffodils by John W. Blanchard published by the A.G.S. in 1990. The numbers preceding the description of each species show the section to which they belong.


A. Anthers parallel to axis of petals   B
  Anthers perpendicular to axis of tepals 9 Bulbocodium
B. Flowers autumnal, corona very short or absent   C
  Flowers winter or spring   E
C. Flowers yellow 1 Tapeinanthus
  Flowers green   I
  Flowers white   D
D. Tube funnel shaped, leaves broad 3 Aurelia
  Tube cylindrical (or nearly), leaves narrow 2 Serotini
E. Tepals white, corona discoid or shortly copular with margin red or scarious 5 Narcissus
  Tepals white or yellow, corona cupular or longer   F
F. Corona as long or nearly as long as tepals 10 Pseudonarcissus
  Corona markedly shorter than tepals    G
G. Stigma and three anthers exserted, tepals sharply reflexed 8 Ganymedes
  Stigma and anthers included in corona   H
H. Scape compressed, leaves broad 4 Tazettae
  Scape round, leaves narrow   I
I. Leaves green without keel, scape smooth, seeds matt black, wedge shaped without strophiole 6 Jonquillae
  Leaves glaucous, four-angled or with two keels, scape striate, seeds shiny black, spherical with strophiole 7 Apodanthae


Most of the larger species are suitable for the open garden, woodland garden or large rock garden. Smaller species may be suitable for the rock garden or alpine meadow but are also suitable for and often better in sinks or in pans in a frame or alpine house. Most (except the Mediterranean and Moroccan coastal species) are hardy, but winter-flowering species appreciate the protection from rough weather given by glass. Species of section Tazettae mostly need a hot dry situation but do not flourish in pots. Outside, the soil should be well drained, but moist positions are preferable to dry. Leafmould is very beneficial. In pans the soil should be gritty and very well drained. Watering should commence in late summer or early autumn. Pans should be kept moist but not wet through the winter, and then abundant water should be given when bulbs are in active growth, reducing to little or none as the foliage dies down. Occasional application of low nitrogen liquid feed may be beneficial. As a general guide species from sections Tazettae and Jonquillae grow in calcareous soil and those from other sections in acid soil. Most will succeed in pans in J.I. potting compost No. 2 with added grit. Propagation is by division of bulbs or seed. Seedlings usually reach flowering size in 3-5 years, and should be kept growing for as long as possible each season.

Wild hybrids are often found in small numbers in places where two or more species grow in close proximity. Inter-sectional hybrids are nearly always sterile. A few of the better known are included below. Many narcissus species have been used in deliberate hybridising, creating cultivars both large and small. There is no universally accepted definition of a 'miniature' narcissus for either garden or show purposes. Some Societies rely on approved lists. The R.H.S. definition is by flower diameter (when flattened out, i.e. as if the petals were patent). No more than 5cm is 'miniature' and more than 5cm but no more than 7.5cm is 'intermediate'. For its Shows the A.G.S. uses the expression 'dwarf but with no definition. Those shown in the list of hybrid cultivars are mainly of intermediate or miniature size.

Hybrid cultivars are classified by the R.H.S. (as International Registration Authority). Details can be found in the International Daffodil Checklist, published by the R.H.S. 1989, which also uses a colour coding system. In the list which follows only the Division is given, defined thus (all except Division 10 must be of garden origin):-

Div 1 trumpet daffodils, one flower to a stem, corona as long as or longer than the tepals

Div 2 large-cupped daffodils, one flower to a stem, corona more than one third but less than equal to the length of tepals

Div 3 small-cupped daffodils, one flower to a stem, corona not more than one third of length of tepals

Div 4 double daffodils

Div 5 daffodils with characteristics of N. triandrus clearly evident

Div 6 daffodils with characteristics of N. cyclamineus clearly evident

Div 7 daffodils with characteristics of N. jonquil-la group clearly evident

Div 8 daffodils with characteristics of N. tazetta group clearly evident

Div 9 daffodils with characteristics of N. poeticus without admixture of any other

Div 10 species, wild variants and wild hybrids

Div 11 split corona daffodils

Div 12 daffodils not falling into any other Division.

A selection of the smaller hybrid cultivars are dealt with at the end of the species' descriptions.