OF THE WEEK
Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department
Paperwhite Narcissus, Paperwhite, Polyanthus Narcissus
Scientific name: Narcissus tazetta
Explanation of scientific name:
- a classical Latin name, from the Greek "narke"
(meaning narcotic or capable of producing stupor
according to Pliny). The Greeks believed that
narcissi gave off evil emanations, their scent causing headaches, madness or even death. The name probably does not come from the beautiful youth
Narcissus in mythology, who became so entranced with his own reflection that the gods turned him
into a flower.
- an old southern European name, probably connected
with the Italian "tazza", meaning cup, in reference to the cup-shaped crown of the flowers.
Narcissus wondrously glittering, a noble sight for all, whether immortal Gods,
or mortal men; from whose root an hundred heads spring forth, and at the
fragrant odour thereof all the broad heaven above, and all the earth laughed,
and the salt-wave of the Sea." So said Homer over 2500 years ago,
giving one some appreciation of how long people have been admiring narcissi.
In all probability, Homer was praising the Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus
tazetta 'Paperwhite'), one of literally thousands of varieties and cultivars
of the 26 species of the genus Narcissus. Native to the
Mediterranean, Paperwhites are closely related to the familiar daffodil, but
differ in that they cannot tolerate freezing temperatures and therefore cannot
survive our winters outdoors. They are, however, easily grown indoors and
that is how most people encounter them. They are occasionally sold as cut
flowers. In warm climates they are common garden plants, blooming annually
for many years. Growing from bulbs to a height of 1-2 feet each stalk
typically produces from 4 to 8 small (one inch) flowers. Pure white is
their most common color, and they emit a strong fragrance for the 7 to 10 days
they are in bloom.
bulbs are available for purchase in the fall, having been harvested from their
growing areas a few months earlier (mostly in Israel). They are ready to
bloom, and do not need to be chilled as do our common daffodils in order to
force them into bloom in pots indoors. Potted into a well-drained soil or
even gravel, they don't need any fertilizer. As long as the soil is evenly
moist and the light is bright, they are reliable to the point of being fool
proof. Flower development is closely tied to the temperatures at which
they are grown. Day temperatures in the 70's F. and evenings in the low
60's F. are ideal. Cooler temperatures really inhibit growth and warmer
temperatures shorten the life of the blooms. How long the bulbs are stored
before planting can be significant too. For example, bulbs planted in
October will take over a month to bloom, but bulbs will bloom in 2 weeks if
planted in February. The longer you store them, the faster they will
the plants could theoretically be grown on after blooming to replenish the
stored food in their bulbs so they could re-bloom the next year, this is
difficult to accomplish. Most people just add the spent plants to their
compost pile, and start anew with fresh bulbs.
As a final note, there is a great deal of confusion that exists over the correct name for this genus of plants. Narcissus, daffodil and jonquil are used interchangeably, and many people believe that all 3 names are synonymous. That isn't exactly true. Narcissus is the correct scientific genus name for this group of plants, but it is also used as a common name. Daffodil is a common name for this group in many English-speaking countries. Jonquil refers to a specific type of Narcissus, and is not a common name for the whole group. The true jonquil is Narcissus jonquilla. For convenience, the genus Narcissus is divided into 11 major divisions based on flower proportions.