A Beginner’s Guide To The Different Types Of Daffodils

Next week, I’ll be planting my daffodils in what has become for me an annual tradition. Why, you may ask, since they multiply so quickly? Well nowadays, daffodils come in an astonishing array of colors, shapes and sizes. So each year, I add a few more varieties to my garden, while savoring the list of further possibilities. 

WHY WE LOVE THEM

Botanically speaking, they’re known as narcissus, but most of us refer to these beautiful spring flowers as daffodils. It may surprise you to learn that the name daffodil is a derivative of asphodel. In Greek mythology, asphodels are said to carpet the Elysian Fields of the afterlife. No one knows, though, how or why the initial ‘D’ was added.

The real asphodel, however, is a mortal flower. Although it shares the daffodil’s linear, grassy green leaves, its flower stalks are much taller, often reaching 3 to 4 feet. And it doesn’t bloom in early spring, but in May through June.

asphodel

A bog asphodel

The word narcissus, on the other hand, is generally believed to be derived from the Greek narke, meaning ‘sleep or numbness,’ which is also the root of narcotic. This may be due to its intoxicating fragrance, although others associate narke with the toxicity of the plant’s bulbs and flowers. The exact origin of the name, however, is unknown. 

Daffodils in early spring

That being said, the appeal of the daffodil for most lies not in its name, but in the flower’s many forms, its fragrance and quite possibly the color yellow. Sunny and bright, yellow represents happiness and renewal. Still, the traditional flower is only one in an expanding array of cultivars now available to the consumer. See below if your garden wouldn’t benefit from one or more of these spectacular types of daffodils. 

THE 13 MAIN TYPES OF DAFFODILS

Depending on who you talk to, there are currently between 40 and 200 different daffodil species and over 32,000 registered cultivars.  For horticultural purposes, all narcissus are split into 13 divisions. The list of divisions is known as the Official Classification System and it categorizes daffodils depending on the size and shape of their cups as compared to their petals.

Here’s a rundown of the divisions and links to some of the standout varieties in each one. 

DIVISION 1: TRUMPET

Characterized by large blooms and only one flower to a stem, these cultivars have trumpets that are as long or longer than their petals. Some of the earliest to bloom, trumpet daffodils come in a wide variety of shapes and colors including Mount Hood, King Alfred and 4U2.

Trumpet daffodil ‘King Alfred’

DIVISION 2: LARGE-CUPPED

These cultivars have cups that are more than one third, but less than equal to the length of their petals. Each stem bears a single flower. Large-cupped daffodils come in a wide range of colors and have flat, ruffled or trumpet-like shapes. Great varieties include: Salome, Ice Follies and the exquisite, soft yellow Day Dream.

Large-cupped daffodil ‘Salome’

DIVISION 3: SMALL-CUPPED 

These daffodils have cups that are not more than one third the length of their petals. Each stem carries one medium-sized flower. Popular selections include the exquisitely-shaped Eleanor Auchincloss, Ringtone and Barrett Browning.

Small-cupped daffodil ‘Barrett Browning’

DIVISION 4: DOUBLES

Not everyone’s a fan of these unusually-shaped flowers with their frilly rows of petals that resemble carnations. Nevertheless, these types of daffodils have a sweet fragrance and look great under flowering shrubs and trees. Each produces one or more blooms to a stem. Try pink and white Replete, tropical-colored Tahiti or soft pink Angélique.

Double daffodil ‘Tahiti’

DIVISION 5: TRIANDRUS 

Tiny and low-growing, these daffodils have petals that flare back and droop downwards, like columbines. Triandrus daffodils prefer wetter conditions and produce 2 or more pendent flowers to a stem. Great varieties include: the dainty white Thalia, soft yellow ‘Angel’s Breath‘ and bright yellow Hawera.

Triandrus daffodil ‘Thalia’

DIVISION 6: CYCLAMINEUS 

Cyclamineus daffodils have smaller-sized trumpets and petals that flare back from the cup. Prized for their early flowering and diminutive size, they’re perfect for naturalizing in large masses. Great varieties include: Wisley, Peeping Tom and February Gold.

Cylcamineus daffodil ‘February Gold’

DIVISION 7: JONQUILS 

Instead of the flat leaves found in most daffodils, jonquils have dark green, tube-shaped leaves that resemble rushes. Strongly fragrant, they feature 3 or more small blooms to a stem. Although they are traditionally yellow, jonquils are also now available in white/yellow combinations. Great for naturalizing. Try Pueblo or Bell Song.

Yellow jonquil daffodils

DIVISION 8: TAZETTAS 

Producing fragrant clusters of up to 20 flowers to a stem, tazetta daffodils are prized for their strong scent and heavy flower bearing. Great varieties include Geranium, Grand Primo and one of my personal favorites, Minnow.

Tazetta daffodil ‘Minnow’

DIVISION 9: POETICUS  

It doesn’t get cuter than this! Also known as Pheasant’s Eye, Poet’s daffodils have very shallow, red-rimmed cups that look like an eye, especially when silhouetted against their bright white petals. One flower to a stem. Poeticus are one of the latest types of daffodils to flower. Great varieties include: Actaea and Recurvus.

White Poet’s daffodil

DIVISION 10: BULBOCODIUM 

Also known as Petticoat daffodils for their lampshade-shaped cups, bulbocodiums grow to just 4 to 6 inches. The smallest of all the narcissus, the species is unusual in that its trumpet is exceptionally large in relation to its petals. Check out Yellow Hoop and Spoirot.

Yellow ‘Petticoat’ daffodils

DIVISION 11: SPLIT-CUPPED 

Also called Butterfly daffodil, split-cupped daffodils have cups that splay out, which makes them appear as if they have another ring of petals. 

Look for Apricot Whirl, Lemon Beauty and tiny coral-pink Shrike.

Split-cupped daffodil

DIVISION 12: MISCELLANEOUS OR OTHER TYPES OF DAFFODILS

This division Includes all those daffodils that don’t fall into the above classifications. Many are natural species’ variants and hybrids.

Mesa Verde daffodil at the RHS SHow

Mesa Verde, a new cultivar developed in California by Bob Spott/Photo: RHS Flower Show

Division 13: SPECIES DISTINGUISHED BY BOTANICAL NAMES 

Often left off of other lists, according to The Daffodil Society this division is nonetheless a part of the official daffodil classification system.

THE BEST WAY TO PLANT ALL TYPES OF DAFFODILS

I realize that for we East Coasters, time is running out for planting spring bulbs. However, many parts of the country still have ample time to get some of these great cultivars in the ground before frost. All varieties need to be planted sometime in the fall before the ground freezes.

Plant your bulbs with the pointy end up and the flat end down. And make sure the hole is twice as deep as the size of the bulb. Back fill with soil and water well. 

Once planted, all daffodil varieties are maintenance free and will naturalize year after year. Deer won’t touch them (due to the above-mentioned toxic properties.) Just make sure to respect your bulb’s requirements. They’ll flower best in full sun, but will tolerate part shade. And in my experience, they do fine in deciduous woodlands.

While there are many theories on when to remove the leaves, I ascribe to the one that advocates leaving the leaves on for about 6 weeks after blooms until they yellow. This allows the plant to absorb energy from sunlight which it redirects back down into the bulb to feed next year’s flowers.

Bulbs coming up too early? Check out my post, What To Do If Your Spring Bulbs Come Up Too Early.

 

What To Do If Your Spring Bulbs Come Up Too Early

(Last week it was 70 degrees, now it’s 20)

Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start popping up mid-winter. As weather becomes more unpredictable, early growth is becoming more and more common in spring bulbs. Not to worry, though. Your plants have seen it all before. Moreover, they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.

THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF BULBS

To understand why spring bulbs can tolerate a little premature growth, it helps to take a peek underground.

Botanically speaking, a bulb is a short stem surrounded by fleshy leaves that store food during dormancy. As soon as you plant it in the fall, a spring bulb starts growing.

A bulb has five major parts:  a basal plate, scale leaves, protective tunic, a flowering shoot and lateral buds. The action begins in the basal plate.

During the winter months, roots emerge from this modified stem to penetrate the soil. 

Photo credit/University of Illinois Extension

As they develop, the roots absorb water and other nutrients that they store in the scale leaves. In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic keeps the scales from damage or drying out.

Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out

As well as providing food storage, the scales also protect the flowering shoot. This vital part of the bulb contains all of the future leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the shoot grows upwards within the bulb, slowly developing into a stem.

Finally, at a pre-determined time in the spring, the leaves are the first to break through the soil. Then approximately one month later, the flowering shoot begins to appear.

At this stage in the process, the key thing to remember is this: the flowers develop independently of the leaves. 

This means that even if your bulbs (specifically, leaves) come up early, the flowering shoots still need time (between 5 and 7 weeks) to develop. And before that happens, your bulbs have most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.

So if you see leaves poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause them to yellow and die back, but the bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once temperatures warm up again.

WAYS TO STOP YOUR BULBS FROM COMING UP TOO EARLY

There are a few strategies, however, that you can implement now to slow things down while providing an extra layer of protection to the flowering shoot.

1. COVER YOUR PLANT

Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will help insulate them against extreme winter weather like frigid temperatures and drying winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.

Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.

2. WATER DURING DRY SPELLS

If there’s been a dry spell for an extended period of time, a little extra water during the day helps bulbs grow. However, make sure your soil has good drainage. Bulbs sometimes rot if they receive too much water.

3.  IF FLOWERS START TO APPEAR

If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually won’t affect flowering in the coming months.

4. PLANT BULBS LATE IN THE FALL

The later in the fall you plant, the longer the bulb will take to sprout come spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs to ensure they are fully dormant. Here in Maryland, I plant my daffodils in late November.

Finally, make sure to plant your bulbs at three times their height in depth with the base down and the bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow leaves them vulnerable to frost heaves and can lead to premature growth. 

For a list of ten popular spring bulbs and when and how to plant them, click here.

Happy planting!