Sandy’s Garden ... Nodding Daffodils

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

My trusty and much-thumbed copy of The Gardener’s Perpetual Almanack nominates the nodding daffodil – Narcissus nutans – as the flower for March 16.

The nodding daffodil was not a name that sprang to mind as being included in any of the many bulb suppliers catalogues which have come my way; nor was it a name which I could recall ever having seen in the displays of daffodil bulbs in any of our local garden centres, or in garden centres further afield, for that matter. What better reason could there be for attempting to find out rather more about a flower which is referred to in a book which, and here I quote from the introduction, “draws on the wit and wisdom of over four centuries of almanacks and gardening books.”

Narcissus nutans is not a name recognised in the Linnaean taxonomy, the particular form of biological classification set up by Carl Linnaeus … the Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist … and set forth in his Systema Naturae, first published in 1735 and still in general use by botanists to this day. However, although Linnaeus did not include the plant in his biological catalogue, Narcissus nutans is a species of flowering plant in the family hybrid Amaryllidaceae, and was first described by scientists in 1803. The Daffodil Society website informs me that the nodding daffodil is assigned to the last of the thirteen Daffodil Divisions identified in the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) System of Classification. Division 13 is the home of cultivated and wild daffodils which are distinguished solely by their botanical name; and I learn from the website of Scamp’s Nursery in Cornwall that the members of Division 13 “always seem to resent being moved about, but once settled are a joy to see in naturalised surroundings. … There seems to be some considerable variance of form.”

So what did I learn about Narcissus nutans? I discovered that it is an all yellow daffodil, both the petals and the cups being of that colour. It blooms, unsurprisingly, in the spring and is classified as a dwarf daffodil, meaning it is very seldom more than 32.5 centimetres tall – 12.8 inches in old money. Nodding daffodils are seen as suitable for growing in well-drained containers with a capacity of at least one gallon, preferably rather larger. They are perennial and need full sun and slightly acid soil if they are to thrive. Away from pots, they do best in an alpine garden, where the bulbs will naturalize and where the showy flowers will attract bees, flies and butterflies. The butterflies pollinate the plant. Deer, rabbits, squirrels and voles will leave the foliage alone, which is not surprising for herbivorous animals have an inbuilt system for recognising harmful plants and the leaves and roots are poisonous. The poisonous roots are of particular value to bulbs imported into North and Central America, where gophers leave them strictly alone.

The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families includes Narcissus nutans Haw., this last part of the name being a reference to Adrian Hardy Haworth (1767 - 1833), an English entomologist, botanist and carcinologist who devoted all his time to natural history, becoming a Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London, where his research work was aided by his use of the library and herbarium of his friend Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820) and regular visits to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. That checklist tells me that Narcissus nutans is a natural hybrid of Narcissus jonquilla and Narcissus triandrus which occurred in south-west Europe. I learn, too, that Ganymedes nutans is a synonym for the accepted scientific name of Narcissus nutans. But I have to confess that I have been unable to find a single supplier of Ganymedes nutans, Narcissus nutans or nodding daffodils; and so, sadly, I may never see one in real life.