Narcissus is the name given to the family of plants which includes jonquils. Daffodil is a
common name used for all Narcissi. Narcissus are members of the Amaryllis family and
are native to various parts of the world including China and Japan, the Mediterranean, Southern
Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia. The plant is described throughout history in the
literature and art of civilizations from China, Japan, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Middle
East. The Latin name for the Daffodil, Narcissus, was believed to have been derived from the
Greek myth about Narcissus. However, Pliny, the Roman naturalist, argues that the name
Narcissus derives from the term narkao meaning to benumb and that it is a reference to the
bulb's medicinal abilities to cause instant numbness.
The first cultivated Narcissi were probably Narcissus tazetta. Tazettas produce multiple, very
fragrant flowers on a single stem. Paper Whites belong to this group. The Greeks loved this
flower which was grown prolifically throughout the Greek isles. The Tazetta Daffodil expanded
into Southern Europe where it was widely naturalized, but it was not hardy in many parts of
It is believed that the Romans brought winter hardy Daffodil varieties to Britain in the early
centuries AD. By the 17th century, Europeans had been cultivating daffodils for hundreds of
years, and the first doubles were being developed.
Daffodils came to the New World with the earliest settlers. By 1651, the town of Gloucester,
VA had large naturalized areas of Daffodils. In Virginia, the Trumpet Daffodils grew very well.
Neighbors and friends shared bulbs routinely.
In the 1820's, the first hybrids were developed but they did not become commercially available
until the 1860's. In the period from 1860 to 1900 1000 new hybrid daffodils were introduced.
An additional 6000 new varieties were introduced between 1900 and 1930. Daffodil popularity
peaked in the late 19th century though there were some substantial developments in the 20th
century. The first pink daffodils were introduced in 1923.
Along with Tulips, Daffodils are the most important spring bulbs in Europe and the United
States. Many old varieties are still available and new varieties are introduced every year.
In many gardens, Daffodils are the first flowers to emerge in the spring. Their bright yellow
flowers are eager to remind all of us that sunny days will soon return.