GREEN THOUGHTS: Gone daffy o’er the queen

THE FEW RECENT DAYS of sunshine and warmth have come as a welcome shock to the body and soul. While our travels are restricted, we’re still allowed to emerge outdoors into our personal safe zones, shrugging off winter’s long-johns, Snuggies and gloom. And what better to greet us than the daffodil? William Cullen Bryant said it best in four simple lines: “Though many a flower in the wood is waking, the daffodil is our doorside queen; she pushes upward the sword already, to spot with sunshine the early green.”

Just picturing a daffodil makes me happier. And that such a delightful plant is so easily grown is another gift from the gardening gods. Daffodils thrive in any at-least-average, decently drained soil, in full sun or partial shade. In fall, plant them at a depth two times the bulb’s height and they will easily outlive you. Deer and voles leave them alone since they contain needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate–why can’t more plants contain such pest insurance? All daffodils ask is that you leave their foliage to wither naturally after the flowers fade, which can be maddening for neatnik gardeners. The trick is to plant them amongst emerging daylilies or other perennials which can mask the dieback or in a patch of lawn which can be left unmown. If that is impossible, give them at least six weeks post-bloom before wielding the shears in their direction.

A bold yellow daffodil with a big trumpet is a stereotypical springtime image, and if that was the only kind of Narcissus, it would be enough. But wait, there’s more! The American Daffodil Society (ADS) recognizes 13 divisions, including the most commonly planted, the trumpets, and the large-cupped and small-cupped daffodils. Less popular are the doubles (unfortunately reminiscent of those “flowers” kids make out of Kleenex in art class), and the triandrus, which have two or more hanging blooms per stem. Cyclamineus daffodils have petals swept back as if windblown, tazetta daffodils are highly fragrant with more than three small blooms per stem, and the poeticus group features very white petals with a green-centered cup flattened into a red and yellow disk. Colors in all types can vary from pure white through all shades of yellow and gold and into red and orange. With up to 200 species and varieties and 25,000 hybrids, there are plenty of choices for years of collecting by an obsessive gardener (who, me?).

If pondering 25,000 hybrids makes you more daffy than cruising the wealth of the toothpaste aisle, let’s backtrack and clarify the terms narcissus, daffodil and jonquil. First, the easy part–all are, botanically speaking, in the genus Narcissus, just as all rhododendrons and azaleas are in the genus Rhododendron. Next, “daffodil” is the common name for all Narcissus. Lastly, jonquil species and hybrids are usually (but not always) characterized by several yellow flowers per stem, strong scent, and rounded foliage, and only plants in ADS division seven (the jonquils) or some in division 13 (certain miscellaneous species) should be called as such.

Long live the doorside queen!

To contact David Chinery, horticultural educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, email

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