Narcissus (Narcissus spp) are popular garden flowers and harbingers of springs native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They grow from a bulbous root system and are well-known for being hardy, returning year after year, their numbers growing each spring.
A stiff, smooth stem appears in the spring with upright basal leaves surrounding it. Flowers may appear at the top of the stem singly, in pairs or in bunches.
The flowers themselves resemble a dainty cup on a floral saucer (well glued, as they tend to face forward, not up). The color is often yellow but maybe cream to orange and multicolored varieties exist.
At the base of the flower is a 3-chambered ovary which swells visibly as the flower fades.
Also known as daffodil, daffy down lilies, daffadown lily, daffadown dilly, jonquil, goose leek, Lent lily, asphodel (no relation)
Steeped in Greek mythology, the story of Narcissus and Echo explores themes of self-love and obsession, providing a timeless narrative backdrop for these flowers.
Narcissus has left an indelible mark on art and culture, appearing in numerous paintings, poems, and literary works throughout history, showcasing its enduring allure.
When cultivating Narcissus, it’s crucial to plant them in well-drained soil and provide adequate sunlight to ensure their vibrant blooms in the spring.
In the realm of magical correspondences, Narcissus symbolizes rebirth, renewal, and self-discovery, making it a potent tool for rituals and spells associated with personal transformation and growth.
Narcissus jonquilla – the Jonquil, named for its rush-like leaves from Latin juncus “rush”. A very fragrant narcissus first cultivated in France in the 18th century for the perfumery. It is used to make Narcissus oil.
Narcissus pseudonarcissus the Wild Daffodil or Lent lily – The true daffodil bearing a single (sometimes double) flower on a single stem with pale yellow petal-like bracts surrounding a rather large darker yellow trumpet. The national flower of Wales.
Narcissus papyraceus the paperwhite – is a narcissus that bears small white flowers in bunches. It is very popular for forcing indoors during the winter.
History and Folklore
This short-lived bloom bears the name of Narcissus, a handsome youth who spurned the love of many until one day he saw his reflection in a pool and fell so deeply in love with the boy he could not have, he drowned trying to embrace him (or drown himself in despair, or starved to death).
It has been said that if you spot the first daffodil of the season, you will have a prosperous year.
Daffodils blooming at the lunar New Year foretell good luck for the coming year.
A single daffodil blooming alone, however, portends misfortune.
Daffodils are the birth flower for the month of March and the 10th wedding anniversary flower.
Narcissus and Echo
An alternative version of the best-known Narcissus myth, which sees the youth fatally fall in love with his own reflection, tells the story of Narcissus and the nymph Echo.
In this version, Narcissus cruelly rejects Echo who, heartbroken, pines to death, leaving behind only her voice to remind the world of her fate. Narcissus is killed as punishment for his cruelty and neglect.
In yet another version of the tale, Echo herself is punished by the goddess Hera. Her crime? Distracting the goddess with stories so that her husband’s lovers could escape from Mount Olympus unnoticed.
This latter version would explain why the nymph is only able to repeat the words of others. In this carnation of the story, Narcissus encounters Echo in this form, while the youth is out hunting deer in the woods.
Unable to have a meaningful exchange, Echo attempts to embrace Narcissus, who brushes her off and rushes back home. Left to pine in the forest, Echo wastes away until only her voice remains.
Narcissus in Art and Cultue
Often represented in ancient Greek art, the Roman version of the Narcissus and Echo was also an extremely popular subject and can be seen in more than fifty wall paintings in Pompeii alone. The tale was also widely used for inspiration in Renaissance art, including by the artist Caravaggio, who made the most of the legend’s visual potential regarding light and reflection.
And, of course, the story of the youth inspired the modern psychoanalytic term “narcissist” which denotes a personality disorder and a propensity for inflated self-esteem.
Growing Narcissus or Daffodils
The words narcissus, jonquil and daffodil are often used interchangeably. Technically they are all narcissus, a daffodil is a narcissus with a particularly large trumpet and a jonquil is a specific sweet-smelling narcissus. Regardless, they all behave pretty similarly in the garden.
Narcissus are generally planted as bulbs in the late summer or autumn for spring bloom. They enjoy plenty of sunshine, but because they bloom so early in the spring before many trees are fully-leafed, they are suitable for shady under-story plantings and are popular in woodland gardens. Just dig a hole and drop them in, pointy end up. Cover, water and wait for spring.
All narcissus are toxic so they are a popular “deer-resistant” choice since deer are not interested in eating poisonous plants. Keep them away from places where your pets like to frolic, especially if your cats and dogs like to nibble on the plant life.
Do not plant narcissus near edible bulbs, like onions or Jerusalem artichoke. Many people have been poisoned because someone confused a narcissus bulb with an edible bulb or tuber.
Daffodils will bloom in early spring and will look rather unattractive after blooming. Many people deadhead them after the flowers fade to avoid this, but do not cut back the leaves.
They need those to gather and store energy for their long rest. By summer, the entire plant will have disappeared, but your daffodils will be back next spring and they will have doubled, tripled, quadrupled their numbers.
Magical Correspondences for the Narcissus
Daffodils symbolize rebirth, resurrection, renewal and new beginnings. It may also be used in spells related to unrequited love.
Wear a daffodil in your breast pocket for luck and to have a cheerful mood follow you all day.
A bouquet of daffodils in the bedroom may increase fertility.
Daffodils are suitable altar decorations for any rituals celebrating the coming of spring and suitable offerings for solar deities, water and nature spirits, especially those identified as female. It should be noted that daffodils are toxic, especially the bulbs and can cause irritation to the skin and so should be used with appropriate caution.
Through folkloric mention, narcissus is a flower of the dead and of the underworld, making it suitable for funerary rites as well as those related to the changing of the seasons through rebirth allegory.
Medicinal Uses for Narcissus
Narcissus is toxic and should not be used for medicine.
They were used in the past for wounds, infections, and possibly cancer, but not with much enthusiasm. Jonquil oil is used in aromatherapy for relieving anxiety and frustration and to improve self-esteem.
The medical industry uses extracts of narcissus to create drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease in Europe.
Toxicity of Narcissus
Narcissus are members of the amaryllis family and all of these contain alkaloids that can be harmful. Narcissus particularly has poisonous bulbs and leaves. The bulbs look very similar to onions, so it is important they not be planted near onions to avoid confusion and accidental poisoning. Be especially cautious with cats and dogs who may like to chew on the leaves and flowers.
Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, salivation, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort/cramping, convulsions, drops in blood pressure, tremors and cardiac arrhythmia.
The sap of narcissus can cause contact dermatitis in some people. Some cultivars are more harmful than others and some people are more sensitive than others.