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What are Daffodils?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term “daffodil” is used to describe all of the flowering bulbs in the very diverse genus Narcissus, although some people mistakenly refer specifically to yellow daffodils as daffodils. These colorful flowers are native to Northern Europe, where they have been cultivated for centuries, and they are widely exported, especially to North America. Daffodils are among the easiest of plants to grow, and many people enjoy making space for them in the garden, especially since they bloom early in the year, bringing cheer to a winter garden.

Several characteristics distinguish daffodils. The first is the flowers, which have a trumpet-shaped central portion surrounded by a halo of petals and a delicate aroma. The flowers can be born singly on a stalk, or in bunches, and the stalks are typically thick and fleshy, as are the blade-shaped leaves. The flowers can be yellow, white, orange, or mixed; for example, they may have orange trumpets and yellow petals, or white petals with orange trumpets.

A wide number of terms are used in referring to daffodils, which can get confusing. Some people use the genus name Narcissus to discuss white daffodils, referring to one famously aromatic daffodil which bears flowers in tight white clusters as a paperwhite narcissus. In some regions, yellow daffodils are called jonquils, and you may also hear them referred to as buttercups. Most daffodil associations prefer the term “daffodil.”

If you want to plant daffodils, purchase bulbs in the fall and bury them about a finger's depth in the soil, with the roots facing down. Daffodils like to overwinter in the cold, and the flowers will not set right if the bulbs don't get a hint of frost. In areas where it snows, the snow will actually insulate the bulbs over the winter, preventing them from becoming too cold. Daffodils will grow pretty much anywhere, although if you plant them in the shade, they will take longer to grow.

The first signs of daffodils will appear in the late winter, when the bulbs shoot out blade-shaped leaves and the stalks start to emerge. The flowers typically bloom in the late winter and early spring, adding a riot of color to the landscape for a few weeks before fading away. It is prudent to separate the bulbs every few years, to help the daffodils spread.

Most garden suppliers carry daffodil bulbs in the fall. The cost of bulbs varies, depending on the cultivar, and you can also purchase a mixed grab bag of bulbs which you won't be able to identify until the spring. Many daffodils also do well when forced in pots indoors, especially paperwhites.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon113020 — On Sep 22, 2010

what are narcissus? I'm getting really confused.

Some people say its like the scientific name for daffodils. What is it? I'm doing an assignment on daffodils and all i can see is the narcissus and now it's really frustrating me.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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