Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Daffodil is a Jonquil is a Narcissus?

Daffodil and leaves drawing

“A rose is a rose is a rose,” famously said Gertrude Stein, but is it also true that a daffodil is a jonquil is a narcissus? In some senses, the answer is yes.  Let’s try to sort this out. 

Narcissus is the genus for spring plants in the Amarylidaceae (amaryllis) family that have six petal-like tepals topped off by a cup-shaped corona as you see in the drawing.  The Narcissus genus includes daffodils, jonquils, and of course narcissus.  Looking at the words for the spring bulbs that we see in bloom everywhere at this time is year, we find some fascinating tidbits of information. 

Narcissus is similar to the Greek word narke meaning numb or intoxicated, which leads to the word “narcotic.”  Some see the name connected to the poisonous aspects of the bulbs and flowers, which is why deer and squirrels avoid eating them (and make them good to plant if you have deer problems).   There is also the Greek myth of the beautiful Narcissus, a young man so in love with his own reflection that he died staring into it.  Some mythologies suggest that in death, he was turned into the beautiful flower that bears his name. 

The name jonquil comes from the leaves that resemble rushes—rushes are in the genus Junco.  Jonquil is usually used to name Narcissus jonquilla—a daffodil that has dark green, tube-shape leaves instead of the flat leaves found in most daffodils including the one I have drawn. 

And then there is Daffodil,  the name that most of us know the flowers by.  This is the common official name for any of the plants in the genus Narcissus.  The word daffodil seems to be an alteration of “asphodel,” another beautiful flower that is said to grow in the blessed fields in the afterlife in Greek mythology—the Elysian Fields.  Here’s a chart of how the word “daffodil” came about although no one seems to know where the “d” came from, maybe it was someone saying "the" with a "da" sound so it stuck to the word's pronunciation.

         In Greek, asphodelos->Old Latin, asphodilus->Middle Latin, affodilus->Middle English,       
         affodil->English (16th century) asphodel->English (late 16th century) daffodil. 

Today, no matter what they are called, we see the daffodil as the face of spring.  In fact, as a celebration of life in the wake of 9/11, the Daffodil Project worked with volunteers to plant more than 6 million daffodil bulbs all over New York.  Daffodils are a symbol of rebirth. So this spring when we see those yellow gold faces glowing in the sun, we think of life and of the future and thank those volunteers for adding to the joy of spring.    

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Eastern White Oak Tree leaves
Today is a day that we celebrate our earth -- its bounty and beauty.  This drawing is of the leaves of the Eastern White Oak, Querus alba, a tree that represents strength and majesty.  It is the first time I tried to add a rain drop to my drawing--this raindrop is to remind us that we rely on water to keep our world healthy; it is also a tear I shed because of the lack of understanding in our present administration about how we all are a part of nature and about what we need to do to help our world survive.
    Today we celebrate science and all that it has contributed to our understanding of life on earth.  We march and protest to keep funding and support for science and for the health of our planet.
    I saw this quote in the Wordsmith blog site and decided to add it to the blog, "There is a beauty in discovery. There is mathematics in music, a kinship of science and poetry in the description of nature, and exquisite form in a molecule. Attempts to place different disciplines in different camps are revealed as artificial in the face of the unity of knowledge. All literate men are sustained by the philosopher, the historian, the political analyst, the economist, the scientist, the poet, the artisan and the musician." -Glenn T. Seaborg, scientist, Nobel laureate (19 Apr 1912-1999)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Making a duck difference

Today is the 83rd birthday of Jane Goodall, a person who exemplifies what she says, “Every individual matters.  Every individual has a role to play.  Every individual makes a difference.” Happy birthday to someone who inspires me, and who has and who continues to play a role in teaching us about the importance of the natural world. 

Thinking about the natural world, I begin this April entry with the Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, a small but tough little duck that Rita McMahon of the Wild Bird Fund described as weighing about as much as a can of Coke.  McMahon was writing about a ruddy that had been brought to her rehabilitation center after having been rescued in Brooklyn where he was found entangled in a rubber band and injured from an encounter with a dog.  When he arrived at the center, she said he bit “like a tiger and hissed like a snake” but he survived.  His wounds were cleaned and he received antibiotics and soon was well enough to return to the wild. 

This seems to me to be a time when we have to be alert, tough, and bold, and we have to keep in mind that each of us as an individual can make a difference.  Our world is going through a change that hit many of us hard at the end of January and made me feel that I had nothing more to write.  But in fact, nature is probably more important than ever.  We cannot forget the natural world and the EPA, nor can we forget the NEA, NEH, and NIH—the organizations that foster creativity and science. 

It is individuals like Jane Goodall and Rita McMahon, who devote themselves to nature, that inspire and help us understand that we are part of a web of life and that even though webs are strong, they can be torn and must be woven back again.  To quote Goodall again, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

So I think about this funny feisty little duck who took on a fierce dog and life-threatening rubber band, but who made it with the help of someone and then several someones who cared.  When I took the class in drawing ducks, I gained great respect and admiration for the duck—an amazing creature that can swim, fly, walk on land, and head out into sometimes unwelcoming waters and environments but who can also survive with a little help from his friends. We need to stay together, care for each other, and stay active doing what we believe will keep the world alive.