April 3, 2019 By Noemi Van In Garden Plants
Some species having been granted specific status have subsequently proved to be natural hybrids, but botanists still argue in quite heated terms on the subject. Fortunately, botanical precision is not part of the gardener’s education, so when in doubt I consult the Royal Horticultural Society’s Dictionary of Gardening for guidance, and then walk on tiptoe along the path the relevant page indicates.
A tiny, deep yellow trumpet daffodil growing only 4 inches (10 cm) high which blooms early in the year, it is adventurously early in northern districts, and frequently suffers the punishment of weather-damaged flowers. That N. asturiensis grows under natural conditions some 6 to 7000 feet (1800 to 2100 m) up on mountain sides in northern Spain explains the bulbs’ careless indifference to our weather.
Given a sheltered corner of the rock garden which holds whatever warmth a pale February sun offers, this little species makes a lovely advance guard to the following legions.
Though all narcissus flowers share common characteristics except for modern hybrids, they do show considerable variation in size and shape of cup, as well as the petals (segments in botanical terms).
There is little of the obvious narcissus characteristic to be seen in the flowers of N. bulbocodium (hoop petticoat daffodil) to the casual eye. Certainly not in the strap-shaped, sometimes thread-like foliage, or in the curiously shaped flower. The long flaring trumpet, crinkled at the rim, and narrow petals give this variable species an elfin charm which is distinctive and attractive. There is a wide range of forms that vary from white to deep yellow. This variability occurs frequently in the wild, and this surprised me when I first saw the bulb growing under natural conditions. Native to south west France, north west Africa, Spain, and Portugal, it shows a catholic taste regarding soil type and situation. There are many named varieties growing from 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) high, some flowering in February, others delaying until early May. However, most bloom in April. The variety N. bulbocodium citrinus with flowers of primrose yellow is a native of north western Spain and is deservedly popular. N. bulbocodium con-spicuus with deep yellow flowers is a strong-growing variety, but unless divided before the bulbs get overcrowded, it produces masses of leaves only. If planted in suitable soil under grass, both of these soon spread by seed and offsets into thriving colonies.
Earliest of all to flower – usually in January, and therefore best grown in a cold greenhouse, N. bulbocodium romieuxii is a most desirable variety with pale yellow flowers. The Spanish and north African N. cantabricus is now a separate species, though it is so like N. bulbocodium that to the non-botanist they are of the same clan. As would be expected of any bulb from that area, they need a thorough sun-baking to succeed, so they are best grown in pots – well worth the trouble just to enjoy the delicate beauty unsullied by rain.
There is no mistaking the flowers of N. cyclamineus with their long trumpets and curious swept-back petals. A tough little species from Spain and Portugal, if given suitable soil conditions. I find the bulbs flourish in moist yet well-drained soil, spreading self-sown seedlings to fill all the available space. When grown natural the height is about 8 inches (20 cm), the flower color, a rich gold.
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