Though officially described by Linnaeus in 1753, the daffodil is one of the oldest cultivated ornamental and medicinal plants, featuring in the cultures of ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and even the Chinese who acquired bulbs via ancient trade routes such as the Silk Road. By contemporary standards, daffodils have become one of the most popular spring bulbs in the garden; in cemeteries, they symbolize beauty, grace, deep regard, art, and death of youth.
Daffodils—scientifically, Narcissus—originate in the Mediterranean region, with the largest concentration of species diversity found in the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal. In North Africa they are concentrated in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algiers and they follow the coastline all the way around to the eastern seaboard and north to Turkey and Greece. Between 50-70 species naturally occur throughout these regions. The western European species are ancestral to the daffodils hardy in our St. Louis climate that flower in the spring. Those from North Africa and the Middle East are largely fall and winter-blooming species and are not hardy in our climate such as the common paperwhite daffodils.
The Royal Horticultural Society in the United Kingdom is the official governing body for the registration of cultivated daffodils and today, over 24,000 named varieties of Daffodils are registered. Of these, there are thirteen recognized horticultural divisions based on morphological characteristics and specific origin. Common divisions found in our gardens are trumpet, large-cupped, small-cupped, double, and jonquilla daffodils. In the St. Louis region, all but the tenth division, the bulbocodium or hoop-petticoat daffodils, grow well and naturalize freely, returning year after year with minimal care.
For more information on daffodils, visit www.daffodilusa.org.
compiled by Cara L. Crocker