Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 21, 2017

Daffy about daffodils

As winter fades, I enjoy watching the leaves unfurl on bare-branched trees. But it is the appearance of flowers poking through the warming ground that most says spring to me. My grandparents and parents had an abundance of daffodils, tulips, irises and peonies on their farms, and their love for flowers has carried over to me.

I tend to “wax poetic” about the coming of spring. Husband Art just as often rolls his eyes when I do. But it seems at least once each spring we do talk about the differences between the daffodil and the jonquil. They are easily confused by us neophytes when they first appear.

Then a few weeks ago, I read that the National Garden Bureau named 2017 as the Year of the Daffodil. Time to do a little research!

According to its website, the perennial daffodil originated in the meadows of Europe, primarily Spain, Portugal, France and Austria. Some were transported to Great Britain and from there, the bulbs were introduced to North America by pioneer women who sewed them into their skirt hems to plant at their new homes.

The botanical genus name is narcissus, inspired by Narcissus from Greek mythology. The head of the daffodil is said to represent a youth bending down, gazing at his reflection, and falling in love with it.

The word “daffodil” is actually a nickname. The Online Etymology Dictionary traced it from Middle English - affodill - having been adopted from Medieval Latin “affodillus.” It, in turn, had come from the Greek “asphodelos.” The Netherlands has long been a source of flower bulbs and it is surmised that the “d” at the beginning of the word came from the merging of the Dutch article “de” with affodil to produce the word we know today.

Jonquil is actually a particular species of daffodil. All jonquils are daffodils, but not all daffodils are jonquils. Jonquils have round tube-like leaves, whereas most daffodils have flat leaves.

The name paperwhite is given to yet another species of daffodil.

All daffodils are members of the amaryllis family and range in size from six inches to more than two feet tall. Some of the more interesting names include “Professor Einstein” with tiny, orange cups, “Tahiti” with ruffled edges and the tiny “Tete-a-Tete.”

In England, daffodils are sometimes called “Lent lilies” because of their association with the time of year when Lent occurs.

England’s neighbor Wales selected the daffodil as its national flower. In that country, if you spot the first daffodil of the season, it is said your next 12 months will be filled with wealth. The visitwales.com website said David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister, was an advocate of the narcissus, whose appearance coincides with the Welsh St. David’s Day on March 1.

Daffodils also have a practical use. When grown in higher elevations, such as in mountains of Wales, the plant produces galantamine used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It is so difficult to produce and in such demand that it is more valuable than gold.

But like me, poet William Wordsworth was impressed by the flower’s beauty. Walking with his sister Dorothy in mid-April of 1802, they came across a “long belt” of daffodils. The experience inspired his poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” commonly known as “The Daffodils.”

The Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
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.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

So Art can roll his eyes. I’m with Wordsworth.

Left: The arrival of spring is heralded by the blooming of yellow daffodils, left, and tulips in a bed next to daughter Mariya's home; right: a white daffodil greets shoppers entering the Manhattan, Kansas mall.

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