By Bill Lawyer

Spring is still weeks away, but I’m already thinking about daffodils, for which I’ve long had an affinity.

Perhaps it’s because they are often in full bloom around the time of my birthday, in early April. Especially attractive are the ones in the “Halsted Hill” neighborhood, including the grassy area outside the Rye Town Park wall.

Daffodils are one of those plants you can enjoy on a purely emotional level without having to know anything about where they came from, how you care for them, etc.

Wordsworth’s famous poem about daffodils focuses on their immediate power as “ten thousand saw I at a glance.”

One of many landscape paintings by Vincent van Gogh is <Couple Walking In The Trees,> completed in June 1890 — just a month before he died. The couple in the painting is literally wading in what appears to be daffodils and other varieties of undergrowth (sous-bois) flowering plants.

A double-square canvas — 20 by 40 inches — <Couple Walking> is the earthly version of van Gogh’s more famous <The Starry Night> swirling sky scene painted the year before. It speaks for itself. Enjoy it, if you happen to find yourself at Museu de Arte de São Paulo in Brazil.

Another reason for just focusing on the beauty of these spring sensations is that when you try to learn more about them, suddenly everything becomes somewhat speculative. For people who want cold hard facts, this can be frustrating. Take their name, for example. Some people distinguish between narcissus and daffodils, but according to botanists, each name refers to the same plant.

Ironically, even van Gogh’s painting suffers from confusion over the name of the colorful and vibrant woodland scene. Other titles, according to The Cincinnati Museum, include <Couple Walking Between Rows of Trees,> In the Woods>, and <Undergrowth with Two Figures>. And, there is uncertainty as to when the painting was completed — some sources say it was 1899, others1890.

In order to make it easier for people who admire daffodils, let’s look at how botanists have sorted them by their many variations. Starting from the general to the specific, we learn that narcissus/daffodil plants are in the Amaryllis family. This family has a vast number of species, divided into 75 genera. It would take weeks to try to understand the various attributes that have been used to come up with these classifications. Amaryllis, which comes from Greek mythology, means “to sparkle.” That’s all I need to know.

While daffodils are beautiful to look at, they are, in many cases, deadly poisonous. Despite that, people have used them in ways similar to how toxic plants are used to treat cancer and other severe ailments.

Narcissus, daffodil, and jonquils (a popular variety of daffodils) have been “domesticated” over the course of time from early civilization up to the present day. Plant cultivars have been developed with a wide range of sizes, colors, and climate conditions. They make great plants for teaching students how they grow and what their environmental requirements are. Plus, they have adapted well to a wide range of these conditions.

The sale of daffodil plants or cut flowers is a major source of income in countries such as the Netherlands. And, to a lesser extent, Great Britain.

The plants consist of bulbs that produce stalks, leaves, and flowers. When the flowers are pollinated, they produce seeds, which, if conditions are optimal, go to the ground and produce new bulbs.

Daffodils will continue blooming and spreading in the wild for many years, as long as the soil is not overly compacted or heavily disturbed.

The daffodils along Forest Avenue by Rye Town Park have withstood many years of “benign neglect”. They were planted by members of Friends of Rye Town Park. The Park staff just has to wait about a month after they bloom to cut back the leaves, to insure that nutrients are passed back to the bulbs.

And that’s the way the daffodils grow, right in our backyard. Get out and take a look soon.


A host of golden daffodils along the wall at Rye Town Park

By Bill Lawyer 


There’s a small but hardy crew of short-cutters, strollers, joggers, and dog walkers that include the path between the Purdy Cemetery and the Oakland Avenue Bridge in their daily routine. Over the past week, they have been treated to quite a show if they travel that way around 4:30 in the afternoon.


It wasn’t that long ago that it was dark by that time. But as the days have been getting longer, people can still see what’s going on. And what a sight it has been to see. Up in the trees lining the path two Great Horned Owls have been perched about 25 feet or more high — close enough to get a fairly detailed view. 


For the most part, they are very stationary, sometimes perched on the same branch; other times they are on nearby branches.


On one occasion, one of the owls suddenly flew out of the woods, across the baseball field, and then into the woods to the north.


Great Horned Owls are probably one of the most studied species of owl in the country. That’s no doubt, in part at least, because they are much larger than most species of owl. They range from 18 to 24 inches long, with the females being slightly longer than the males. They weigh from 2 to 5 pounds. “Our” owls were at the larger end of this range.  


Over the years I have heard the hooting of Great Horned Owls, particularly in the winter months, when the nights are longer and the mating season has begun — from December through February. Great Horned Owls are the true epitome of a nocturnal animal. Their eyes are well adapted for receiving any available light and they have an enhanced ability to hear even the softest sounds of a potential prey.


The first time I saw the two owls, it wasn’t because I noticed them on my own. A crow had been cawing loudly, so I looked up to see what was going on. And there they were.  


At first it looked like two clumps of leaves wedged between the branch and trunk of the tree — it reminded me of the nests that squirrels make, known as drays.


But then one of the clumps moved.  


The owl’s feathers are truly camouflaged, so that while they are sitting still it’s almost impossible to see them as dusk approaches. As I watched, the crow seemed to give up and flew away.  


The next afternoon I encouraged my granddaughter to come with me, as I said she would see a fun surprise. Of course, I wasn’t sure they’d still be there, but I thought it was worth a try. And when we got there, success!  


Nearly everyone on the planet seems to know about the owl in the Harry Potter stories, but I have to admit that I’ve never read the books or watched the movies. But in my mind, finding two large owls with feathers that look like horns was as exciting as any fictional, magic owls.  


And the other fascinating thing we were able to see was the owls’ ability to pivot their heads 270 degrees, so that they can really pick up sounds coming from nearly all directions.  


While “our” owls seem beautiful and almost docile, when they get into their hunting mode it’s an entirely different story. They perch high in a tree on a dark night, and when they spot or hear their prey they dive straight down. Their talons give them the ability to catch and crush their prey before the rats, voles, and other critters know what hit them.   


Unfortunately, there was no way I could get a good photo of our owls at rest or in the air. So if you want to see what the excitement is all about, you’ll have to go to the path and see for yourself.




Photo of Great Horned Owl at the Marshlands Conservancy courtesy of William J. Hall Wildlife Photography