The Poet’s Daffodil (Narcissus Poeticus)

This lovely daffodil is still blooming in the woodland corner of the garden and its early June. Naturalized  throughout much of the Eastern part of the United states it is grown widely in Holland and France for its fragrance.

Poeticus daffodil

It is also known as pheasant’s eye which is self explanitory once you see it. I had heard about this daffodil and was surprised and delighted to see it on sale last autumn in Lidl. So I threw a few bags in on top the groceries and went home to plant some in the woodland. There was no sign of them for ages but I did know that they were a later blooming daffodil. I decided to research them a bit and what an interesting story a simple bulb can have.

Also known as Pheasant’s eye daffodil I have them planted in amongst the ferns

They are one of the ancient daffodils appearing in botanical writings as early as the 4th century BC.  Virgil has written about a daffodil that many historians think was Narcissus poeticus  though there are a few others in contention for that honour such as tazetta. It has also featured in some of the Greek and Roman legends. The most famous one of these is the legend of Narcissus who was punished for his vanity by the Goddess of vengeance Nemesis. This I found interesting from a language point of view as the words narcissist and nemesis are a common part of our speech today.

Depending on whether its Greek or Roman Mythology the one theme is that Narcissus was so beautiful everyone fell in love with him though he however rejected all his suiters . One day he stopped by a stream to drink and saw his reflection and fell entranced with his reflection. He remained at the pool unable to eat or drink until he pined away and died.  In the Greek version it was a young man Ameinias who fell in love with him. Narcissus rejected him but gave him a sword which he used to kill himself on Narcisuss doorstep. As he died he pleaded with the Gods to punish Narcissus for his cruelty.

In the version by Ovid the wood nymph Echo fell in love with Narcissus but did not dare to approach him. When she finally did he rejected her and she faded away until nothing was left of her but an echo. This part of the story is similar as the Goddess of vengeance Nemesis is said to have punished him by making him become obsessed with his own reflection in a pool and when he died  turned him into a daffodil that historians believe could be Narcissus Poeticus.

In the woodland

Another legend is of gentle Peresphone who while gathering daffodils with her friends was captured and brought to live in the Underworld by Hades. This in turn led to the custom of decorating graves with these flowers. These myths and legends are fascinating and certainly deserve a more in depth study than I have given them here. But I digress, so back to daffodil Poeticus.

Poeticus daffodils are also very heavily scented and are used as a base for many of the modern perfumes. The narcissus essential oil made from these daffodils are used as one of the main ingredients in 11% of modern perfumes. The oil is said to smell of Jasmine and Hyacinth.  Like all daffodil bulbs they are poisonous if eaten and  narcissus poeticus even more so causing vomiting and irritation if ingested.

So what I initially thought to be just a humble daffodil has in fact a fascinating history.

If you know any poets wouldn’t they be a lovely gift.

This bee seems attracted by the heady scent


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