Narcissus (Botany) - Encyclopedia

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NARCISSUS, a genus of bulbous plants belonging to the family Amaryllidaceae, natives of central Europe and the Mediterranean region; one species N. Tazetta, extends through Asia to Japan. From these, or rather from some of these, by cultivation and hybridization, have arisen the very numerous modern varieties. The plants have long narrow leaves springing from the bulb and a central scape bearing one or more generally large, white or yellow, drooping or inclined flowers, which are enveloped before opening in a membranous spathe. The flowers are regular, with a perianth springing from above the ovary, tubular below, with spreading segments and a central corona; the six stamens are inserted within the tube. The most interesting feature botanically is the "corona" or "cup," which springs from the FIG. 1. - Flowers of Narcissus base of the flower-segments. (Narcissus Tazetta) bursting from This gives the special charthe sheathing bract or spathe, b. acter to the flower, and the members of the genus are classified according to the length of this organ as compared with that of the segments. The most probable supposition is that the cup is simply an excrescence or "enation" from the mouth of the flower-tube, and is connected with the fertilization of the flowers by insect agency.

There are five well-marked sections.

1. The hoop-petticoat narcissi, sometimes separated as the genus Corbularia, are not more than from 3 to 6 in. in height, and have grassy foliage and yellow or white flowers. These have the coronet in the centre of the flower very large in proportion to the other parts, and much expanded, like the old hooped petticoats. They are now all regarded as varieties or forms of the common hoop-petticoat, N. Bulbocodium, which has comparatively large bright yellow flowers; N. tenuifolius is smaller and somewhat paler and with slender erect leaves; N. citrinus is pale lemon yellow and larger; while N. monophyllus is white. The small bulbs should be taken up in summer and replanted in autumn and early winter, according to the state of the season. They bloom about March or April in the open air. The soil should be free and open, so that water may pass off readily.

2. A second group is that of the Pseudonarcissi, constituting the genus Ajax of some botanists, of which the daffodil, N. Pseudonarcissus is the type. The daffodil (fig. 2) is common in woods and FIG. 2. - Daffodil - (Narcissus Pseudonarcissus)-3 nat. size. 1, Flower cut open; 2, pistil; 3, horizontal plan of flower.

thickets in most parts of the north of Europe, but is rare in Scotland. Its leaves are five or six in number, are about I ft. in length and 1 in. in breadth, and have a blunt keel and flat edges. The stem is about 18 in. long and the spathe single-flowered. The flowers are large, yellow, scented and a little drooping, with a corolla deeply cleft into six lobes and a bell-shaped corona which is crisped at the margin; they appear in March or April. In this species the corona is also very large and prominent, but is more elongated and trumpetshaped, while the other members are regarded as subspecies or varieties of this. Of this group the most striking one perhaps is N, bicolor, which has the perianth almost white and the corona deep yellow; it yields a number of varieties, some of the best known being Empress, Horsfieldi, Grandee, Ellen Willmott, Victoria, Weardale Perfection, &c. N. moschatus, a native of the Pyrenees and the Spanish peninsula, is a cream-coloured subspecies of great beauty with several forms. N. cyclamineus is a pretty dwarf subspecies, native of Portugal, with narrow linear leaves and drooping flowers with reflexed lemon-yellow segments and an orange-yellow corona N. major is a robust form with leaves 1-4 in. broad and bright lemon-yellow flowers 2-21 in. long; maximus is a closely-related but still finer form; obvallaris (the Tenby daffodil) is an early form with uniformly yellow flowers. N. minor and minimus are miniature repetitions of the daffodil. All these grow well in good garden soil, and blossom from March onwards, coming in very early in genial seasons.

3. Another group, the mock narcissi or star daffodils, with coronets of medium size, includes the fine and numerous varieties of N. incomparabilis, one of which, with large, double flowers, is known as butter-and-eggs; N. odorus, known as the campernelle jonquil, has two to four uniform bright yellow flowers, and is considered a hybrid between N. Jonquillet and N. Pseudonarcissus. A form with sweet-scented double flowers is known as Queen Ann's jonquil; N. juncifolius, a graceful little plant from Spain, Portugal and south France, has one to four small bright yellow flowers on each scape. The hardier forms of this set thrive in the open border, but the smaller sorts, like Queen Ann's jonquil, are better taken up in autumn and replanted in February; they bloom freely about April or May. N. triandrus - Ganymede's Cup - is a pretty little species with white flowers about i in. long; in several of its varieties the flowers are a pale or deeper yellow; they make attractive pot plants.

4. The polyanthus or bunch narcissi form another well-marked group, whose peculiarity of producing many flowers on the stem is indicated by the name. In these the corona is small and shallow as compared with the perianth. Some of the hardier forms, as N. Tazetta itself, the type of the group, succeed in the open borders in light well-drained soil, but the bulbs should be deeply planted, not less than 6 or 8 in. below the surface, to escape risk of injury from frost. Many varieties of this form of narcissus, such as Grand Monarque, Paper white, Soleil d'or, are grown. They admit of being forced into early bloom, like the hyacinth and tulip. They vary with a white, creamy or yellow perianth, and a yellow, lemon, primrose or white cup or coronet; and, being richly fragrant, they are general favourites amongst spring flowers. Many tons of these flowers are exported from the Scilly Isles to the London markets in spring. The "Chinese sacred lily" or "joss flower" is a form of N. Tazetta. The jonquil, N. Jonquilla, with yellow flowers, a native of south Europe and Algeria, of which there are single and double flowered varieties, is also grown in pots for early flowering, but does well outside in a warm border.

5. There remains another little group, the poet's or pheasant'seye narcissi (N. poeticus), in which the perianth is large, spreading and conspicuous, and the corona very small and shallow. These pheasant's-eye narcissi, of which there are several well-marked varieties, as radiiflorus, poetarum, recurvus, &c., blossom in succession during April and May, and all do well in the open borders as permanent hardy bulbs. N. biflorus, the primrose peerless, a two-flowered whitish yellow-cupped species, equally hardy and easy of culture, is a natural hybrid between N. poeticus and Tazetta. N. gracilis, a yellow-flowered species, has also been regarded as a hybrid between N. Tazetta and N. juncifolius, and blooms later.

Of late years some remarkably fine hybrids have been raised between the various distinct groups of narcissi, and the prices asked for the bulbs in many cases are exceedingly high. One of the most distinct groups is that known under the name of "Poetaz" - a combination of poeticus and Tazetta. The best forms of poeticus ornatus have been crossed with the bunch-flowered Tazettas, and have resulted in producing varieties with large trusses of exquisite flowers more or less resembling the ornatus parents, and varying in colour from the purest white to yellow, the rim of the corona being in most cases conspicuously and charmingly coloured with red or crimson. This is an excellent group for cutting purposes, but it will take a few more years to make the varieties common.

For an account of the history and culture of the narcissus see F. W. Burbidge, The Narcissus (1875); a more recent scientific treatment of the genus will be found in J. G. Baker's Handbook of Amaryllideae (1888); see also Nicholson, Dictionary of Gardening (1886); and J. Weathers, Practical Guide to Garden Plants (1901).

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