by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser
I was wondering if spring would ever arrive this year, but daffodils are now assuring me that it is well on its way! These dependable and carefree spring flowering bulbs are easy to grow in Missouri. Also known as narcissus or jonquil, Narcissus is the scientific name for the daffodil genus. Daffodil is used as a common name, particularly for the larger-flowered types. Jonquil is the common name for Narcissus jonquilla and related hybrids, which have several small, fragrant flowers on each stem and flat petals.
Daffodils are long-lived perennials often found surviving around old homesteads long after the house is gone. They do well in full sun or partial shade and can even thrive under deciduous trees because they bloom before the trees leaf out. They aren’t bothered much by insects and diseases. Tulip bulbs are often eaten by critters over the winter, but daffodils are not usually bothered.
Daffodils actually have a chemical in their system that is toxic. This is why critters do not eat the bulbs. In fact, be careful when you pick daffodils because contact with the stems and bulbs causes the skin irritation known as daffodil itch or lily rash. Crystals of calcium oxalate in the sap, in conjunction with alkaloids, act as an irritant and also cause sores in the skin.
The chemicals in the sap are also why you must rinse daffodils before arranging them in a vase with other flowers. When rinsing them for the vase, just put the daffodils in water by themselves, switch them to fresh water a few times so the toxic sap runs out, and then combine them with other cut flowers in a vase with fresh water. If you don’t rinse the daffodils, the other flowers – like tulips for example – will not last long in the vase with them.
Care for these fall planted bulbs is easy, partly because of the toxins in their sap that helps to protect them. When the early blossoming daffodil flowers fade in the garden, let the foliage die back naturally. The nutrients in the foliage are moved into and stored in the bulb as the leaves die back. If you cut the leaves off, then the bulb won’t get the nutrition from the leaves that it needs to bloom next year. Unfortunately, when the foliage is dying back, the plants look unsightly. One trick is to plant daffodils in the back of the perennial border so when they begin to die back, other plants in the garden will grow and disguise them.
The English poet, William Wordsworth wrote “I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze” back in 1802. He must have been happy when spring finally arrived. Enjoy these lovely harbingers, but remember to wear gloves if you pick a bouquet.
Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our website at http://mtngrv.missouristate.edu.