The yellow trumpets of daffodils brighten spring in gardens, on roadsides and in parks during March and April. But these are usually larger garden varieties. Our native daffodil is smaller than most garden varieties. It was known as the ‘Lent lily’ or ‘Easter lily’ since it often blooms then, though botanically it Is not a true lily. Once abundant in parts of England and picked for markets, these wild flowers are now much rarer, having declined during the 19th century.
In Scotland they can be seen in Falls of Clyde Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve. Most are Narcissus pseudonarcissus with narrow, grey-green leaves and pale yellow petals surrounding a darker yellow trumpet giving a two-tone look. Though William Wordsworth wrote about ‘A host of golden daffodils’ the Welsh Tenby daffodil N. p. obvallaris is more truly gold than the Lake District flowers.
Wild daffodils are relatively short and form clumps, carpeting the ground. The plants are poisonous and therefore resistant to deer and rabbits.
The Latin name comes from the story of Narcissus who had many admirers, including the nymph Echo. Angered at his refusal she made him fall in love with his own reflection so he wasted away until he died. The Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer wrote in ‘The Golden Bough’ (1890) that the myth originated from the belief that man’s soul is situated in his reflection. Hades the Greek god of the underworld captured Persephone as she was picking daffodils in the Elysian Fields. Daffodils were associated with death and used in wreaths and planted on graves.In the Christian faith it is linked to the Virgin Mary and is even occasionally referred to as Mary’s Star.