Friday, March 21, 2008

daffodil narcissus

I am an amateur naturalist trying to learn something about everything living in my garden.
Spring has sprung here in Oxford in the U.K. One of the cheeriest signs of its arrival is surely the great profusion (I'll spare you references to "hosts of golden-" etc.!) daffodils that pop up in our gardens, woodlands and on roadside verges. Photo 1 shows some of those appearing anually in my garden.

In fact, a number of different types of daffodil appear at this time of year in my garden. That I should find more than one is perhaps no surprise since, as I learn from the Warwick Daffodil Genetic Resource webpage, breeders have developed a staggering 25,000 daffodil cultivars! The Royal Horticultural Society site hosts a searchable database. The same site also gives details of the horticultural code system used by daffodil aficionados (narcissists?!) to label varieties. In brief, it works like this:

Firstly, decide which of the 13 divisions of daffodil yours belongs to. In the case of the daff in photo 2, though not obvious from the photo, I measured the central 'trumpet' (corona') as longer than the outer petals ('perianth segments'). This puts it in Divison 1. By contrast, the corona of the daffodil in photo 3 is more than 1/3, but less than the full length of the petals, putting it in Divison 2.

Next, write down a letter for the colour - White, Green, Yellow, Pink, Red or Orange - of the perianth segments. So, photo 2 becomes 1Y, and photo 3 2W. (There are rules on the RHS page above for what to do if your daffodils petals are multicoloured)

Finally, repeat for the corona (adding a hyphen '-'). So finally photo 2 = 1Y-Y and photo 3=2W-Y.

Simple! (Or at least that's my understanding - as always, my amateur identifications come with a health warning - I'm always happy to be corrected. )

Of course it's also possible to be more 'botanical' about things - working through phrases like 'dentate coronal rim'. The ultimate goal must surely be to pin down one's daff's to one of the >25000 listed varities. Breeders have come up with some great names - "Her Majesty Queen Alexandera"; "This Little Piggy" and "Singing Pub" being three that caught my eye. I'd be delighted if any expert out there can tell me the name of the daffodil's in Photos 2 and 3 .

For those interested in doing more than simply naming their daff., the definitive textbook would appear to be "Narcissus and Daffodil, The Genus Narcissus" (Edited by Gordon R. Hanks, publ. CRC Press). I don't own a copy, but rather helpfully, the publishers have put a substantial chunk of the book online. From this I learn that there are about 80 species (as opposed to sub-species cultivars) of Narcissus, forming part of the Amarillidacyeae family of plants that also includes the snowdrops and lillies. Something I'd not really considered was how bulbs grow and expand. The book gives a rather detailed account of this and explains that each year new flesh appears in the centre of the bulb, with progressively older flesh being found further out from the centre. The very oldest flesh ends up as the papery, thin skin one often finds on the outer surface of bulbs. Finally, it seems that daffodil bulbs contain some rather nasty, toxic, alkaloid compounds. This no doubt explains why, although bulbs in my garden commonly get dug up and eaten (by, I assume, squirrels or badgers), this never seems to happen to my daffodils. Britain's wild daffodil is Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

The 1st March is St. David's Day - the patron saint of Wales - and it's common for people to wear a daffodil buttonhole.

I'll leave two last words to William Shakespeare:

When daffodils begin to peer,
with heigh' the doxy, over the dale,
why, then comes in the sweet o' the year.
The Winter's Tale (Act 4, Scene 3)

and from the same play

That come before the swallow dares,
and take The winds of March with beauty
The Winter's Tale (Act 4, Scene 4)

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