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.    

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