Daffodils (Narcissus) are assigned to the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) by botanists. The genus comprises 30 to 40 species, but numerous varieties have been created by breeding, which began in Europe in the 18th century, so that one can assume around 24,000 cultivated forms (hybrids). These are divided into eleven groups according to their initial types. For example, a distinction is made between trumpet daffodils, tacets and cyclamen daffodils. The natural distribution area of the wild species lies in southwest Europe and northwest Africa with a distribution focus on the Iberian Peninsula. Only few types occur originally also in the coast-area of the eastern Mediterranean.
While most types have only a very small spread-area, the spread-area of the wild easterbell (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) stretches over the entire Western Europe. Their natural habitats are light forests, meadows and stony mountain slopes. In the United States it can be found in the Eifel National Park, among other places. The French town of Gérardmer in the Vosges is also known for its daffodil meadows.
Daffodils are persistent, herbaceous plants with an onion as their survival organ. Onions usually produce three to four basal, linear to belt-shaped leaves. When fully grown, these usually tower above the flower shaft. The growth height is between five and 60 centimeters. The leafless inflorescence comprises one to 20 flowers, depending on the species and variety. They are each protected by a dry wrapper. The hermaphroditic single flower consists of two different parts, the main crown with six individual petals and the secondary crown, which can be shell-shaped, cup-shaped or trumpet-shaped and of different lengths. In many species the flowers exude a fragrance. The flower colour ranges from white to yellow and orange.
Flowering time for the species and varieties cultivated in the garden is from February to May. However, there are also a few game species that bloom in autumn or winter. After fertilization, the flower develops into a three-chambered capsule fruit containing numerous seeds. After seed ripening, all parts of the plant above ground, i.e. leaves and flower shaft, die off and only the bulb survives the narcissus. Daffodils contain various alkaloids that are toxic. The sap that escapes, for example when the flower stems are cut off, can cause skin irritation.
Daffodils are popular and widespread spring bloomers in gardens. They can be placed in the sunny bed with any normal garden soil, as well as in pots and boxes, and they are also promoted already at the end of winter as houseplants offered. In the bed they can be combined with other bulbous plants such as crocuses (Crocus), snowdrops (Galanthus), grape hyacinths (Muscari) and tulips (Tulipa). Early flowering shrubs such as Pulmonary herb (Pulmonaria) and Lentil roses (Helleborus) can also be used as bedding partners. In addition, many narcissus varieties can be planted in lawns and meadows, where they then become wild – that is, they spread over daughter bulbs and form larger stands over the years.
In the United States, narcissus flower should be preferably planted in September. However, planting is possible into the winter as long as the soil is frost-free. Experience has shown that bulbs planted early and thus well rooted survive severe frost periods better than those planted late. The planting depth for the bulbs is usually 10 to 15 centimeters. In some botanical species, where the bulbs are quite small, the planting depth should be correspondingly shallower. The following rules apply: The planting hole should be twice as deep as the narcissus bulb is high. The planting distance is between 12 and 15 centimeters. In heavy soils you should mix some sand into the soil, but daffodils are not as sensitive to moisture as most other bulb flowers. They also take root faster in autumn if the bulbs are thoroughly watered after planting.
Daffodils make only few demands on the location and are accordingly easy to care for. However, the soil should not be too dry over a long period of time. After flowering, the flower shafts are removed before the seed capsules form, as this would unnecessarily weaken the plants and shorten their lifespan. The leaves, on the other hand, remain standing until they have yellowed. This allows the nutrients contained in the leaves to be stored in the onion again. If you have planted daffodils in the lawn or in a meadow, you should wait until the leaves of the daffodils have withered before mowing the area. In early spring, when the leaves of the plants sprout, daffodils can be supplied with ripe compost (three to five litres per square metre). It is also recommended to apply a phosphate-reduced, rapidly soluble complete fertilizer directly after flowering. If daffodils become bloom lazy after a few years, take the bulbs out of the soil after yellowing, carefully separate the daughter bulbs formed on the mother bulb and replace them.
Narcissus can be propagated by sowing and by daughter onions. Since the formation of seeds can weaken the mother plant and it takes up to seven years for the seedlings to form flowers for the first time, this form of propagation is only relevant for breeders. It is easier, as already described under care tips, to divide the narcissus bulbs and insert them again.
Diseases and pests
A typical pest is the narcissus fly, which is a hoverfly. It lays its eggs on the plant, the larvae migrate into the soil and then eat their way inside the bulb. There they feed on the leaves and the flower shaft. The eaten onion rots. It is difficult to treat infested onions and only possible if the infestation is detected early in the summer. Experts recommend a so-called warm water treatment: The onions are taken out of the ground and immersed in water at 44 degrees Celsius for two hours. The larvae die as a result. The onions are then left to dry thoroughly and stored in a dark and cool place until autumn. Then they’re planted back in the bed. Damage caused by feeding on voles, which is always a problem in bulb flower plantations, is of no significance in narcissuses, as rodents spurn the poisonous bulbs. One disease that daffodils occasionally suffer from is onion basal rot. It is caused by a fungus (Fusarium). Onions infected with the fungus rot and their leaves yellow prematurely. It is important to remove the diseased onions as quickly as possible and dispose of them with your household waste. Since the fungus survives in the soil for years, no new daffodils should be planted here for about five years.
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