A favorite harbinger of spring, the daffodil is so beloved that it now comes in a dizzying array of colors and forms – double, ruffled, split cup, etc.
Representing rebirth and new beginnings, as well as faithfulness and honesty, it returns year after year. It takes its name from the Greek word asphodel, meaning “king’s spear.” This symbol of the Annunciation and flower of both March and Easter must always be given in bunches, as only one signals misfortune or even penury. It is native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. The jonquil is its smaller European sibling. The daffodil was used by herbalists as a cleansing agent, removing impurities from the body, as well as cleaning wounds and soothing burns. A modern Alzheimer’s drug is derived from it.
Originally white, this favored flower of Persephone turned yellow after Pluto touched her. As his domain is the underworld, daffodils often appeared on graves. Egyptians also included them in funeral wreaths. It’s in the Narcissus family of plants, named for the youth who ignored the girl Echo, who pined away for love of him. The goddess of retribution, Nemesis, led him to a lake where he fell in love with his own reflection and pined away himself, upon which he was turned into a flower.
The entire plant, most especially the bulb, is poisonous. Roman soldiers reportedly carried them in case they were mortally wounded. For country people, it was especially unlucky to bring them inside before any eggs had hatched. If you did, the eggs wouldn’t hatch. One author relates this story: “A friend was staying at a farmhouse near Christow and one day plucked a Daffodil and placed it in his button-hole. On his return he laid the flower on the table; but the servant coming in soon after, demanded who had brought in that Daffodil, adding ‘We shall have no ducks this year.’ ” In Lancashire and other English counties, children of the poor would sell the “Lent Lily” or “Lents” as they call them, for pins, or any small amount of money.
An old rhyme goes:
Has now come to town,
In a yellow petticoat
And a green gown.
Lastly, daffodils bestow excellent fortune on those who avoid trampling them, so watch your step!
– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have some plant lore to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org