It's hard not to notice; the little yellow flowers in the middle of winter. While driving out in the countryside, you will find a familiar flower – the daffodil - on the side of the road by its lonesome. Or you might see a group of them, a burst of yellow or white, off in an abandon field. Ever wondered why you see these yellow or white flowers in these unusual places? Seeing "wild daffodils" in late February and March is not a rare sight but rather a common occurrence and has a long history in rural Alabama.
Each year, daffodils come forth in many flower beds around the home to announce the upcoming spring. But it is those that spring forth year after year in unique places that speak of history. "Wild daffodils" are often a pleasant surprise; found growing where one might not expect to see them. Their presence reveals the history of the area and likely evidence of an old-home site where men and women once lived. These daffodils aren't really "wild" but some of the garden leftovers of the first flowers planted in this country. Daffodils have always been admired for their lovely yellow or white flowers, but it's their ability to return each year, even over the ages of time after people have moved on, that makes them quite extraordinary.
Daffodils are part of the Amaryllis family so they develop exclusively from bulbs and have the ability to multiply and return each year. The earliest daffodils originated from Asia and southern Europe, with the greatest concentration of species being from around the Mediterranean. Next to tulips, daffodils have become one of the most popular spring flowers. Their yellow or white flowers add color to the dull winter landscape and indicate spring is just around the corner.
Daffodils are considered old-fashion flowers so they have a variety of names. Members of this family of flowers are often referred to as daffodils or buttercups or narcissus or even jonquils. The term "narcissus" is the name of the whole genus of daffodils and a few other closely related flowers. Many white varieties of daffodils are generally sometimes called narcissus. The name "jonquil" actually only applies to a specific type of daffodil - Narcissus jonquil.
The "wild daffodils" found in Alabama are believed to be Narcissus pseudonarcissus or better known as Lent lily. This species of daffodil came from portions of Europe and may have been one of the first type of daffodils introduced to North America. There are many other old varieties that remain at old home sites and bloom each year but their names are either forgotten or unknown. Some named varieties that are popular in the South include: 'Tenby', 'King Alfred', 'Ice Follies', 'Butter & Eggs', 'Carlton', 'Twin Sisters', and 'Mary Copeland.'
Daffodils come in a variety of colors and sizes. Most are known for their large yellow trumpet shaped flowers, however, daffodils may be white gold, orange, reddish, pink, or have a combination of these colors. Their trumpets may be flared or smooth, long or short. Their petals may overlap around the trumpet like a fan, or they may twist and flare back like a jet trail. Many daffodils are fragrant. With over 24,000 named cultivars, there are plenty of styles and colors to choose from.
With daffodils' ability to survive over the years with absolutely no care, very little effort is needed to grow them. All they need is a well-drained site, moisture in the spring, and about six hours of sun a day after they bloom. The only maintenance is to cut daffodils back in the summer after their flowers fade and their foliage has naturally died back and browned. When the foliage is green, the plant is building and storing up energy for next year's flower show.
Whether it was a long time ago or just last year, daffodils were planted to provide years and years of enjoyment. The next time you see a daffodil, remember that someone took the time to plant the small bulb that grew that pretty little flower. And feel privileged you have been given the chance to share the moment and beauty of this special and historic flower.
For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county Extension office.
Shane Harris is a Regional Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System serving East Central Alabama.
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