A Beginner’s Guide To 13 Types of Daffodils

At the end of August, daffodils are rarely top-of-mind. But this is precisely the time when you should be ordering them. And this is especially true for the more sought-after, unusual varieties. Why stick with yellow trumpets when daffodils come in so many other colors, shapes and sizes? See below if one or more of these different types of daffodils wouldn’t be the perfect fit for your 2021 spring garden. 

THE 13 MAIN TYPES OF DAFFODILS

The choices are seemingly endless. Depending on who you talk to, there are currently between 40 and 200 different daffodil species and over 32,000 registered cultivars. To keep them all organized, horticulturalists split them into 13 divisions. These thirteen divisions are known as the Official Classification System. It categorizes daffodils based 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 two 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 three 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. Each has just 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 variants or hybrids of natural species.

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 the list, according to The Daffodil Society this division is nonetheless a part of the official daffodil classification system. It includes all the wild daffodils.

THE BEST WAY TO PLANT ALL TYPES OF DAFFODILS

On the East Coast, we plant our spring bulbs in November, once nighttime temperatures have fallen to around 45 to 50 degrees F. So hold on to your new purchases until at least late October. This is approximately six weeks before the first hard frost. 

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 some 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.

 

When To Cut Back Daffodil Foliage

I know you don’t want to, but you must. You must wait to cut back your daffodil foliage until it yellows. Removing leaves prematurely may neaten things up, but come spring you’ll have far fewer flowers. And everyone knows daffodils look best in big numbers. Continue reading

Daffodil Bulb Care: The Top 5 Things You Need To Know

Recently my email box has been overflowing with questions from readers worried about the unusually warm winter we’ve been experiencing. Many of the questions center on daffodils, in particular, what to do with unruly bulbs. In replying, I first spoke with a few of my local nursery experts to gain their opinion. Following are five of my readers’ top concerns about daffodil bulbs and what to do about them. Continue reading

Spring-Flowering Bulbs: 10 Great Varieties

Spring bulbs in a formal garden setting

Yesterday I supervised the planting of two thousand spring-flowering bulbs. We laid them individually in patterns and dug them one-by-one into the earth. When we were finished, we dressed the bulbs with mulch and stepped back to admire our handiwork. You could almost feel the energy emanating from all those future flowers tucked so snugly underground. Continue reading

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 weather 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.

Each 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.

As they develop, the roots absorb water and other nutrients that they store in the scale leaves. 

Photo credit/University of Illinois Extension

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

The scale leaves provide food storage, and they also protect the flowering shoot. This vital part of the bulb contains all of the future leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the flowering shoot slowly grows upwards within the bulb, eventually developing into a stem.

Finally, at a pre-determined time in the spring, the leaves 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: 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 things warm back 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 can 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. And it won’t destroy your bulbs. They’ll still flower next year.

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’re fully dormant. Here in Maryland, I plant my daffodils in 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 makes them vulnerable to frost heaves and can lead to premature growth. And planting them upside down can stunt their growth.

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

Author’s note January 2020: According to Science News, there is growing evidence that, in general, warmer springs are bringing earlier spring flowers. This in turn will result in longer growing seasons and drier summers. (This does not, however, mean daffodils in January.) 

Here in Maryland we are having an unseasonably warm winter. In fact, it’s 65 here today on February 3. Below is a photo illustrating the state of my daffodils. (The leaves are about 3″ tall.) I’ll keep you posted as to their development. 

my daffodils in february

My own daffodils on February 3

Same daffodils on February 24 – all foliage, luckily no blooms!

Looking for more information on daffodil care? I posted an article this week (February 2020) answering five top questions posed by my readers. Join the discussion!