Narcissus pseudonarcissus (daffodil) – Kew

Narcissus pseudonarcissus (daffodil)

The daffodil is the ‘golden’ flower that inspired the poetry of William Wordsworth.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Narcissus pseudonarcissus (Image: Paul Little, RBG Kew)

Species information

  • Scientific name: Narcissus pseudonarcissus L.
  • Common name(s): daffodil, common daffodil, wild daffodil, Easter lily, Lent lily, downdilly.
  • Conservation status: Locally abundant and not considered to be threatened.
  • Habitat: Woodlands, coppices, open meadows and grassy slopes.
  • Known hazards: The leaves, stems, seed pods and bulbs contain toxic alkaloids. If eaten they can cause dizziness, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and occasionally also convulsions. The toxins are usually most concentrated in the bulbs. Rather surprisingly, daffodil bulbs have been eaten on occasion after being mistaken for onions. The sap can cause dermatitis, and the leaves are poisonous to livestock.

Taxonomy

  • Class:Equisetopsida
  • Subclass:Magnoliidae
  • Superorder:Lilianae
  • Order: Asparagales
  • Family:Amaryllidaceae
  • Genus: Narcissus

About this species

This well-known European flower brings bright swathes of colour to woods and grassland in early spring. Although the daffodil is sometimes known as the Easter lily, it is actually a member of the Amaryllidaceae (the plant family that also includes snowdrops) and hence is not a true lily.

The Latin name for daffodil is thought to have been inspired by Narcissus, who was a figure in Greek mythology said to have fallen in love with his reflection in a pool of water. The nodding head of the daffodil is said to represent Narcissus bending down and gazing at his reflection.

The World Checklist of Monocotyledons currently recognizes 54 species ofNarcissus, and numerous naturally occurring hybrids, but a recent study of daffodil DNA determined there are 36 species of Narcissus, divided into two subgenera (Hermione and Narcissus) and 11 sections. This study placesN. pseudonarcissus in subgenus Narcissus, section Pseudonarcissi.

Geography & Distribution

Narcissus pseudonarcissus in Gloucestershire
Narcissus pseudonarcissus in Gloucestershire (Image: Holly York)

The daffodil is native to western Europe, and is found in the area bounded by Portugal in the west, Germany in the east, and England and Wales to the north. It is not clear whether the species is truly native to Britain, or was introduced long ago and has become naturalised. It grows at altitudes from sea level to at least 1,500 m and is found growing wild in woods and grassland, and its many cultivars and hybrids are also widely cultivated in parks and gardens in most temperate regions.

Description

Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Narcissus pseudonarcissus, near the Temple of Aeolus, Kew (Image: Jenny Heath, RBG Kew)

Narcissus pseudonarcissus is a bulbous perennial with upright, strap-like, grey-green leaves. The leaves arise from the base of the stem and are up to 35 cm long and 12 mm wide, with rounded tips. A single flower is produced at the tip of the flattened flower-stalk. The flower consists of a dark yellow ‘trumpet’ (corona) surrounded by a ring of 3 sepals and 3 petals (perianth), which are a lighter yellow. The flowers are up to 60 mm long and the ‘trumpet’ and ring of petals are roughly the same length. Flowers are usually produced from March to April. The daffodil is clump-forming, but reproduction is primarily via seed production.

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