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Bill Starr: Conceited flowers a-bloom now

I was driving home the other day and I noticed a fence line with lots of flowers that were really conceited! They were all staring into mirrors looking at themselves with great admiration; I would definitely say these flowers were narcissistic. Well, due to our variable temperatures, I have been seeing many flowers that could be narcissistic, or maybe a better description would be narcissus.

Narcissus is a genus of mainly hardy, mostly spring-flowering, bulbous perennials in the amaryllis family. Various common names including daffodil, narcissus and jonquil are used to describe all or some of the genus. We have been warm enough this winter to cause these flowers to pop up early. (Who knows what this latest arctic blast will do?) Narcissus flowers are usually white or yellow and are characterized by a narrow, tubular base, three petals and three petal-like sepals and a central cup-like appendage (the corona, cup or crown) that may be of contrasting color. The genus narcissus encompasses dozens of species, hybrids, varieties and forms. Jonquils, daffodils, paper whites are the most popular varieties of narcissus.

• Jonquils — They have dark green, round, rush-like leaves and clusters of small, fragrant, early, yellow blossoms.

• Daffodils — Without a doubt, modern large flowered daffodils are the most popular type of narcissus planted today.

• Paper whites — They are the early blooming narcissus variety with white, powerfully fragrant, clustered flowers.

The word narcissus is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness or stupor. Some people attribute the naming of the flower to its narcotic fragrance (some stink!) while others debate that it is associated with the poisonous nature of the narcissus bulbs, but there is also a Greek myth that some attribute the name to. According to the legend in Greek mythology Echo was a wood nymph who loved a youth by the name of Narcissus. He was a beautiful creature loved by many but Narcissus loved no one. He enjoyed attention, praise and envy. In Narcissus’ eyes nobody matched him and as such he considered none were worthy of him. The ancient Greeks believed the narcissus plant originated from the vain youth, Narcissus. He died after becoming so obsessed with his own reflection in a pool he could not leave. The Greek legend is that the gods turned his remains into the narcissus flower.

The legend has persisted for long periods of time, and for a long time narcissus was believed to grow best in wet soils. However narcissus actually needs to be planted in a soil that will drain well. Choose a well-drained, sunny place. Hillsides and raised beds are best. Drainage is the key. Spade at least 12 inches deep. Improve your clay with well-rotted compost, soil amendment or planting mix, and raise the bed. I have seen narcissus blooming all over our area lately, and some of the flowers are already starting to fade, but remember: after blooming, never cut the foliage until it begins to yellow. The plants need to store up enough energy so that they will bloom again next year, its OK to cut them back once they start to turn yellow or brown. The next time you are in your yard admiring your narcissi think about the legend for which they may have been named, and think about if Narcissus broke up with himself while staring himself in the mirror he could say “Really it’s not you, it’s me.”

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.