Narcissus x odorus
Go Natural with Narcissus
The world seems sad
mid winter's gloom,
But all is well
when the jonquils bloom.
Late winter is a hard time for gardeners. The last of
the defiant water oak
leaves have all been raked. All of last years spent hydrangea blossoms
been removed. And the once elegant Miscanthus clumps have been cut to
ground. If one more seed catalog arrives in the mail it will have to
burned, as the horticultural mind can only hold so much pent up enthusiasm
for next year's garden. Even in the South, gardeners look for any sign
spring will finally arrive as promised after last years brief annual
The persistent heckling of the winter honeysuckle won't do. Its rebellious
purpose is to torment winter until it leaves in disgust.
Then it happens. Those green little shoots, some showing since
Thanksgiving, begin to whittle away at what's left of winter with dainty
clusters of intoxicatingly fragrant blossoms. The jonquils are here!
Perhaps no floral symbol epitomizes the impending arrival of a Southern
spring as does the blooming of our assorted Narcissus species.
The genus Narcissus is a member of the Amaryllis family. The word narcissus
is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness or stupor. Some
attribute the naming of the flower to its narcotic fragrance while others
debate that it is associated with the poisonous nature of the bulbs,
in defense against nibbling rodents. Of course in classical mythology
was the young lad Narcissus who was so enamored with himself that he
at his reflection in a pool of water until he eventually turned into
namesake flower. A serious case of narcissism don't you think?
Most Narcissus species are natives of southern France, Spain, and the
surrounding Mediterranean areas. This explains their love of our dry
summers and wet winter. Many species of Narcissus have been cultivated
hundreds, even thousands, of years.
Without exception the most common species found growing throughout Texas
today were brought over from Europe by the early colonists and distributed
westward by settlers from the East. Invariably, the naturalized types
growing with reckless abandon (old homesites, cemeteries, even roadsides!)
throughout the state are mostly wild species or hybrids between these
species. The word naturalize is just a nice term for "run amuck"
wild." Its what the daffodils are always doing in the Dutch bulb
promotional material. It's one step past a perennial which simply means
returns each year. There's no substituting for wild genetic vigor in
plant. As a matter of fact, it's difficult to find any old homestead
South that doesn't have at least one of the "big three," jonquils,
narcissus, or daffodils still thriving on site.
What's the difference between jonquils, narcissus, and daffodils you
It's an age old question. Botanically speaking, they're all different
species of the genus Narcissus. To the average gardener however the
differences are fairly distinct.
True jonquils (Narcissus jonquilla) have dark green, round, rush-like
leaves and cluster of small, fragrant, early, yellow blossoms. Almost
yellow cluster flowered Narcissus are lumped into this group including
jonquil hybrids. Jonquils and their kin are most common in East Texas
throughout the acid, well drained soils of the mid-South (roughly, zone
from Tyler to the East Coast). Even more common than the straight species,
which often spreads by seed, is the campernelle jonquil (Narcissus x
odorus), a natural hybrid between the wild jonquil and the wild daffodil.
It's normally sterile and only grows where you plant it (or drop it).
bigger plant with two to three large, fragrant, yellow jonquils above
jonquil foliage which is slightly flattened and has a bluish gray cast.
Also frequently found is the "Texas Star" jonquil (Narcissus
a natural hybrid between the wild jonquil (N. jonquilla) and the wild
narcissus (N. tazetta). It has short, pale yellow flowers above very
flattened, green jonquil foliage. It was painted by the great French
botanical artist, Redoute, in the early 1800's.
The common name narcissus usually refers to the early blooming, white,
powerfully fragrant, cluster flowered varieties of Narcissus tazetta.
includes, but is not limited to, what we commonly call paperwhites
(Narcissus tazetta papyraceous). Naturalized paperwhites are limited
areas near the coast or other protected microclimates due to their extremely
early bloom time (often between Thanksgiving and Christmas). Narcissus
common all along the gulf coast including alkaline areas (roughly zone
9, from San Antonio to the East Coast). Also limited to the gulf coast
the Chinese sacred lily (Narcissus tazetta orientalis) a giant, powerfully
sweet narcissus which comes in a single form as well as a double form.
Further inland, Narcissus tazetta italicus is frequently encountered.
has slightly twisted creamy white flowers and with a pale yellow cup.
all narcissus, it blooms best during a mild winter. Throughout the rest
the state the most common form encountered is Narcissus tazetta 'Grand
Primo.' Its wide spread adaptability is due to the fact that it's the
latest blooming narcissus, usually between early February and early
It has big bold clusters of powerfully sweet, creamy-white blossoms
make excellent cut as well as dried flowers. All narcissus have wide
flattened, green foliage with the exception of paperwhites which are
The name daffodil is reserved for the large, normally yellow, single
trumpet flowered cultivars of Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Without a doubt,
modern, large flowered daffodils are the most popular type of Narcissus
planted today,. Daffodils are most commonly found in the acid, well
soils of the upper-South (roughly zones 6, 7, and 8, from Texarkana
East Coast). Although big daffodils are most commonly planted, they
to be the least adapted for naturalizing. The most common naturalized
found is once again, the wild species known as "the lent lily"
daffodil." It's considerably smaller and earlier than its modern
with pale yellow petals around a gold cup. And like all daffodils it
thick, flattened, blue-gray foliage It's also much tougher and adapted
its larger showier kin. It too can spread by seed on good soils.
Without exception, the best types of Narcissus for naturalizing are
early blooming species and hybrids. In addition to their early bloom,
tend to be cluster or small flowered. This early bloom (January through
March) ensures that the foliage can mature before mowing begins or hot
weather sets in which kills the foliage prematurely. Any Narcissus that
bloom after March 1 in Texas is not likely to be a long lived perennial.
It's extremely critical for successful perennialization or naturalization
that the foliage be allowed to grow, mature, and ripen naturally. This
means it should never be cut off or tied in cute little knots. Each
foliage stores up the food reserves for the next years bloom. Disguising
the maturing foliage is up to the wits of the gardener. In meadows,
grass, wild flowers, and clover often do the job. In flower beds, annuals
or emerging perennials planted nearby can do the trick. Another ploy
plant Narcissus along fence rows, along the edges of beds, or at the
trees or landscape structures so that they won't be mowed until the
foliage is edged at a later date.
Although commonly grown and seen, finding commercial sources for true
naturalizing Narcissus is a problem. Reputable commercial sources are
course the easiest. Keep in mind that Southern grown stock is genetically
superior in vigor to the commercial Dutch forms. Swapping, trading,
"bulb rustling" from soon to be dozed vacant lots are other
it comes to "rustling" the advice of an expert should be noted.
Kunst, garden historian and owner of Old House Gardens says "bulb
should always be done with permission and sensitivity. I believe historic
plants are akin to endangered species and should be approached with
ethics and care. Let your enthusiasm be tempered by the recognition
plant that seems terribly "at risk" has probably already survived
where it is for decades if not generations, which is more than most
can guarantee in our own gardens. Always collect the smallest possible
sample, and never jeopardize the continued existence of the original
The best time to plant and transplant Narcissus is mid to late summer
they have gone dormant. This means that clumps need to be marked and
labeled with stakes when they bloom in the spring in order to locate
after the foliage has died. One option is to move them in late spring
the foliage turns yellow and can still be seen. In desperate (or lazy)
circumstances, most tough species of Narcissus can be moved in full
full foliage and planted immediately, with a good soaking, fairly
successfully. As a rule, the following years bloom will be jeopardized
to the interruption of the natural growth cycle. True naturalizing types
Narcissus begin root growth in late summer and early fall. Shoots often
emerge as early as Thanksgiving. Therefore all planting and transplanting
should be finished before the first of October or even earlier for best
results. Late planting with the rest of the Dutch bulbs is not recommended.
There's nothing more invigorating than the arrival of the early Narcissus
growing like wildflowers with reckless disregard for horticultural
boundaries. As a matter of fact, naturalizing Narcissus are even more
adapted for roadside and highway plantings
than wildflowers are. All they require is full sun to part shade
(preferably deciduous) and a fairly well drained soil. They bloom early
avoiding mowing of flowers or foliage, they're perfectly happy amidst
grass and weeds. Reseeding is not necessary so there's no need for
unnatural signs designating natural areas. They go dormant during the
summer and require no water (actually they need to become bone dry to
best). They bloom every year. And they live for ever. What more could
ask? It's a natural!
Sources for Naturalizing Narcissus
Old House Gardens
536 Third St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Attractive, informative catalog $1. Outstanding source for a great number
of heirloom bulbs, including N. jonquilla, N. x odorus, N. x intermedius,
and N. pseudonarcissus. Many are produced in Louisiana and Texas.
William R.P. Welch
P.O. Box 1736
Carmel Valley, California 93924-1736
Free informative price list. Great source of many U.S. grown N. tazetta
cultivars including 'Grand Primo', paperwhites, and double Chinese sacred
lily. All order should be in by September 1.
McClure and Zimmerman
108 W. Winnebago
P.O. Box 368
Friesland, WI 53935
Free catalog. Offers a wide variety of Dutch grown bulbs including N.
jonquilla, N. x odorus, paperwhites, and Chinese sacred lily.
The Daffodil Mart
30 Irene Street
Torrington, CT 06790-6668
Extensive catalog $1. Offers a wide variety of Dutch grown bulbs including
N. jonquilla, N. x odorus, paperwhites, and Chinese sacred lily.
Best Naturalizing Narcissus for Texas
1. Narcissus jonquilla (jonquil): Perennial throughout
the state. Yellow,
fragrant blooms in February. Multiplies best in acid, sandy-loam soils.
2. Narcissus x odorus (campernelle jonquil): Adapted throughout
Yellow, fragrant blooms in February. The best!
3. Narcissus x intermedius (Texas star jonquil): Adapted
state. Creamy-yellow, fragrant blooms in February.
4. Narcissus pseudonarcissus (early daffodil/Lent lily):
throughout the state. Creamy-yellow blooms in February. Multiplies best
acid, sandy-loam soils.
5. Narcissus tazetta 'Grand Primo' (Grand Primo narcissus):
Adapted to all
parts of the state from Dallas south. Creamy-white, fragrant blooms
February. Thrives in alkaline or acid soils.
6. Narcissus tazetta papyraceous (paperwhites): Performs
best from 1-10
south to the coast. Pure white, fragrant blooms in December-January.
7. Narcissus tazetta orientalis (Chinese sacred lily):
Best along the coast
only. White-yellow bicolor, fragrant blooms in January-February.
Beautiful, long lived perennial jonquil for the South.
Flowers: Fragrant, golden yellow, in clusters of 2 or three.
Foliage: Dark green, rush-like. January to April.
Exposure: Full sun to deciduous shade.
Water: No irrigation required. Prefers summer drought.
Uses: Perennial border, xeriscape, cottage garden, naturalizing,
flower, roadside plantings, etc.
Sources: Abandoned lots, old homesites, and Old House Gardens
Note: A natural sterile hybrid between the wild jonquil (Narcissus
jonquilla) and the wild daffodil or lent lily (Narcissus pseudonarcissus).
Introduced before 1595! For more information see Garden Bulbs
South by Scott Ogden (Taylor Publishing, 1994).