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Signs of Spring
March 17, 2017
Native to Southern Europe and Northern Africa, daffodils have become symbols of hope around the world. Seeing the valiant leaves sprout through the soil after a cold, miserable winter is reassurance that spring is near. Filoliís stunning daffodil collection includes more than 160 cultivars, and it is registered with the American Daffodil Society as one of two daffodil display gardens on the west coast. Daffodils launch a wealth of spring color at Filoli, and they are the just the motivation needed to spend some time outside after California winter rains have subsided and the sunshine begins to lure blooms out of dormancy.
Daffodils fall into the genus Narcissus. This genus encompasses 12 different daffodil divisions, categorized by various flower characteristics. These characteristics include: petal shape, number of petals, length of center cup, and number of flower heads on each stem. Although all are very similar, these flowers are a novelty for their unique scents, orange to white color gradient, and iconic bobble head shape.
The Meaning of Narcissus
The genus name Narcissus is believed to have a couple of different origins. The first and most widely associated derivative ties this flower to the Greek and Roman mythological tales of Narcissus. Narcissus is the name of the character who influenced the meaning of the word “narcissistic.” A vain and handsome man, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pond while out hunting. Because the reflection could not love him back, he died of a broken heart sitting on the bank of the pond. The Narcissus flower can often be found along river banks or near ponds, and the flower head usually tilts in a downward angle, resembling the handsome character in the Greek and Roman mythology. The second derivative comes from the word “narcotic,” and it relates to a poisonous alkaloid in the bulb, making it toxic. Deer, squirrels, and moles will not bother plants in the Narcissus genus because the bulb is toxic to them, which can actually be even more reason to plant Narcissus if your garden is not fenced or protected from these snack hungry critters.
Daffodils grow best in a Mediterranean climate, as this is their native environment. Dry, hot summers and cold, wet winters provide the perfect growing conditions for these bulbs, but they are highly adaptable to many places. On the USDA hardiness zone map, this bulb is charted from zones 3–8, meaning that these climate zones are the ones it will survive best in. By following this link: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov you will find a chart with the different zones illustrated. The search bar at the top allows you to search the zip code you need information about.
Planting daffodils is best to do in the fall. The ground temperature should be around 60° Fahrenheit and slightly moist. This combination of temperature and moisture is important, as the bulb must establish roots in the fall to make it through the cold winter months. The bulb will grow roots in fall, hibernate when the weather gets cold in winter, then resume growing as temperatures begin to increase. As temperatures increase, a shoot will begin to form above ground. The shoot will have much more vigor than the root system at this point, and it will continue to rapidly grow and bloom.
In the gusty spring breezes, Filoliís daffodils are bobbing their heads in approval from the entrance gate to the worn path in the fruit orchard. They are happy to help kick off Filoli’s “Year of the Garden” centennial celebration. Filoli’s gardens have been welcoming family, friends, and guests for 100 years, and we are looking forward to 100 more.
Written by Brianne Perry. Photos by Richard Simonds.
Heath, Brent & Becky (1995). Daffodils for American Gardens. Washington D. C.: Elliott & Clark Publishing.
Salyards, Jim. personal communication regarding Filoli collections. February 2017.
The Myth of Narcissus. Greek Myths and Greek Mythology. Retrieved from:
Learn more about Filoli’s Garden history:
Learn more about The National Trust For Historic Preservation: http://www.preservationnation.org