Though the best-known member of the genus is the cheery daffodils, narcissus is the umbrella name for the numerous narcissus flower species, varieties, forms, and hybrids.
Species and genus name confusion aside, the flower most likely originated from the Mediterranean region and spread to the other parts of the world like Central Asia, China, America, Holland, and many other places like Germany—where it’s currently the most popular flower.
Narcissi are usually among the first bloomers to air their cheery tones in the early spring, essentially announcing the end of winter. Their mainly white or yellow flowers are made of three petals, another three petal-like sepals (also known as the perianth), and a corona (the central cup-like appendage)—which sometimes may be of a different color.
The origin of the name Narcissus
The name narcissus is often linked to the Greek myth of a young man named Narcissus who ended up falling in love with his reflection. Actually, he’s believed to have fallen in a stream after growing tired from staring at his “beautiful image” in the water.
The flowers that commonly grew on and along the banks of the very streams and river where he perished, were, therefore, named after him.
In fact, to date, some believe that the daffodils naturally bend their necks facing the ground to symbolize Narcissus’ bending over the water to admire his image.
Other meanings and symbols include faithfulness, good wishes, and respect. But it’s also used to describe an individual who is always full of himself.
- All narcissus species are mainly grown from bulbs, and therefore, very easy to grow and care for.
- The flower grows almost anywhere; however, it does prefer well-drained soil with full sun exposure or partial shade—at the very least.
- Plant the bulbs from August to November—the earlier you do it the better. The planting depth should be thrice the height of the bulb—in large containers, beds, and borders AND slightly deeper (15 cm) in lawns.
- Planting en masse makes the most impact, especially if you’re considering growing narcissus in your garden. To ensure a dazzling display, plant clumps—at least 10-20 bulbs.
- Dig out a circle of soil; around 6-8 inches deep. Add in some (little) bulb fertilizer, compost; then proceed to plant the bulbs at a depth of 3 or 4 times the height of the bulb(s). The spacing should be as far apart as the bulbs are wide.
- Water deeply once you’ve put the bulbs in place; then use the soil you dug up earlier to refill the hole.
- Add well-rotted compost (a few inches) on the top to serve as the mulch.
- Insert some stake to help you remember where you planted the bulbs.
Hint: Plant the bulbs in long rows if you intend to grow the flower (solely) for cutting purposes.
- De-heading. Consider de-heading once the flower heads fade to encourage more blooms. Otherwise, the plant will divert the energy into seed production rather than building up the bulb.
- The leaves in most cases will begin to yellow once the blooms fade, and therefore, look unattractive. That’s fine…Just don’t rush to remove them. Instead, allow 6 weeks or longer after the flowering then remove. This is because the leaves still contain some valuable nutrients required for the next season’s crop of flowers.
- Propagation. Narcissus, just like other bulbs, multiplies by bringing forth new bulbs—forming a clump. Divide the overcrowded clumps in late summer then plant the offsets elsewhere in the garden. You can as well propagate your favorite narcissus species with the fresh seed(s) harvested during summer and sown late summer or in the autumn—outdoors in pots.
- As mentioned earlier, narcissi (the plural for narcissus) are easy to grow and care for as they require very little maintenance.
- The most you can offer them is rich well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter in it.
- Young plants don’t really require fertilizer since they draw most of the vital nutrients from the bulb. But still, use the weak liquid fertilizer weekly during the growing period.
- An inch of water on a weekly basis is sufficient during the active growth and blooming period—which is from March to May.
- If you’re doing container gardening, consider keeping the plants away from direct sunlight (in a cool area) once they bloom to help prolong the flowering period.
- Mulch to help conserve moisture.
- Narcissus is a perennial, so divide the bulb clumps in early summer every 5-10 years.
Common narcissus varieties include:
i) Daffodils—which feature trumpet-shaped flower(s) set on a star-shaped background. They symbolize friendship.
ii) Jonquils—feature dark green, round, and rush-like leaves accompanied by small clusters of fragrant yellow blossoms.
iii) Paper Whites—are the early bloomers of the narcissus variety with strong scented white flowers, and are mostly grown indoors. They’re usually sold in decorative pots, which are meant to be disposed of once the 3-week bloom period comes to an end.
However, you can still save the bulbs if you want to. Simply dig it up (the bulb), dry, and then clean. Store in a container or paper bag and place it in a cool dark location until the next spring.
Ensure you stake your paperwhites so they remain upright even when they become top-heavy. Use a bamboo stake if possible to prop them up.
The Takeaway: Plant Narcissus for Early Springtime Beauty
People grow narcissus for different purposes—which can be to beautify the spring landscape or for abundant harvest as cut flowers. Regardless of what you grow it for, ensure your growing location isn’t waterlogged so as to prevent the bulbs from rotting.
When harvesting, wear gloves to protect yourself from the irritating effects of the slimy sap this plant produces.
The sap is also poisonous to other flowers and can significantly shorten their lifespan if put together in a vase.
If you intend to have a floral vase with a combination of flowers (narcissus included), consider “conditioning” the narcissus first. Simply place the freshly cut stems into some cool water (only the narcissus stems) for about 2-3 hours. This allows for the callusing of the stem ends, thereby, stopping the flow of the toxic sap.
Avoid re-cutting the stems as it may trigger the oozing sap again.
A pure narcissus floral arrangement (whether of a single variety or several) doesn’t require all the “conditioning” procedure—so don’t stress out.