That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze."
First stanza of "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth
The daffodil is such a simple flower, yet is celebrated for its flash of color and its early appearance after long, cold winter days. It represents renewal and signifies the beginning of Spring. With little or no effort on behalf of a gardener, daffodils surprise us with their new green stems and delight us with their bright yellow faces. Available in many varieties with varying shades of yellow and white, daffodils are a "sure thing" in the world of flowers.
Daffodils are known to date back thousands of years, native to the Mediterranean area. Common to Ancient Greece and Rome, daffodils were brought to Britain while it was a part of the Roman Empire. Other bulbs such as tulips were more popular in the 1600s and 1700s, leaving little attention for the daffodil. However, its popularity grew and thousands of cultivars have been developed since the late 1800s.
While daffodil is this flower's most common name, it is also referred to as Narcissus (its botanical name), Jonquil (from Spanish), and occasionally Buttercup. Narcissus was used by the Greeks and their myth of Narcissus explained the origins of the flower. Narcissus was a handsome youth who fell in love with his own image. He died by drowning as he tried to reach out to his own image in a pool of water. The flower grew in that place to commemorate his death. Another Greek myth tells of Persephone, Demeter's (goddess of agriculture) daughter, who was picking daffodils (or Narcissi). As she wandered away from her companions, Hades (god of the Underworld) snatched her and took her to be his bride. Thus Greeks and Romans associated daffodils with death, the afterlife, and rebirth.
Today daffodils express many thoughts and feelings. The birthday flower for March and the flower of the American Cancer Society, they still symbolize rebirth and renewal. In the language of flowers, daffodils can communicate unrequited love, chivalry, and "you're the only one". These flowers are not, however, desirable at weddings since they are thought to bring unhappy vanity to the bride.
It is best to plant daffodil bulbs in early Autumn, the dormant season for bulbs. Drop each in a hole that is at least twice as deep as the bulb is tall. A "bulb booster" fertilizer is desirable, but not necessary. Consider underplanting daffodils with purple-flowering bulbs such as grape hyacinth or adding purple pansies in the Spring.
After the bulb has flowered in early Spring, leave the foliage intact until the leaves turn yellowish brown. This allows the bulb to rejuvenate before becoming dormant again. If you are anxious to use the area for other plants, flatten, braid, or roll up the daffodil leaves and tuck them under other plants. Since daffodil bulbs are quite prolific, divide them and replant the "offspring" every 2-3 years at the beginning of Autumn. This is a wonderful way to expand your daffodil collection or share with other gardeners.