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