Daffydowndillies

Wild daffodil {Narcissus pseudonarcissus} (c) Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Daffodils are a welcome sign of spring, particularly for our garden expert John Hughes. However, the daffodils that adorn our parks and roadsides are garden varieties, with the truly Wild daffodil now not present in Shropshire. John, explains more about this species in his latest blog.

I like signs that tell me how the year is progressing. The dawn chorus on volume 11, return of the swallows and daffodils. These cheery trumpets are favoured by gardeners and parks departments alike as a herald of spring. In common with many urban streets, Shrewsbury’s Sundorne Road has a concourse of daffs that guide me on my commute like runway landing lights.

For years I’ve used their flowers as my way of telling how early spring is. “The daffs are in flower for Dydd Dewi Sant” I proclaim if they are open on March 1st (come on, it’s St David’s Day). To me, that’s a welcome sign spring has arrived early.

Daffodils

Rainbow daffodils (c) Neil Aldridge

I’m indulging here in a bit of phenology – the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena. These studies (far more rigorous and scientific than mine) show that the trend is for flowers to bloom increasingly early as the Earth’s climate warms.

While it’s lovely to think spring is lifting us out of our winter and Covid gloom, it’s not so welcome if you’re an insect that times its emergence to nectar-rich flowers or a bird rearing young when insects are abundant.

Sadly most of the daffodils planted along roadsides have limited wildlife value. These cultivated varieties bear very little nectar so, if you want their colour and more bees, plant crocuses with your daffs.

Wild daffodils are still to be found in some parts of Britain, but sadly nowhere in Shropshire.

Wild daffodil

Wild daffodil {Narcissus pseudonarcissus} (c) Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

These plants have evolved to flower and wither before the woodland leaf canopy closes, so pollinating insects find them with ease in the sunshine. Wood anemones and bluebells follow this same route.

Wild daffs have many colloquial names, such as Lent lilies, affodils and, of course, daffydowndillies – a sure sign they were worthy of note in pre-industrial Britain. They provided a little cash boost if bunches could be sold in spring markets. It wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that commercial daff growing took off, notably in the Isles of Scilly when the railway could rapidly transport the cut flowers to Covent Garden.

Wild daffodil

Wild daffodil {Narcissus pseudonarcissus}(c) Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

I do love a scientific name and daffodils are Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Like so much of the natural world it alludes to classical stories. In Greek mythology Narcissus was the son of a nymph and a river god who was so handsome he fell in love with his own reflection. He eventually died from this unrequited love and a beautiful flower sprang up where he fell.

Daffodils have become such a common sight throughout the land that they may be taken for granted. I hope that my gentle scratching of their bright yellow surface has helped you see them with new eyes. I also hope that they are a few in flower on March 1st when I wish you all Dydd gwyl Dewi hapus!

 

John Hughes

Shropshire Wildlife Trust