Pheasant Eye Narcissus, N. poeticus: “The Poet”

Pheasant Eye narcissus is the one that’s worth waiting for, the last daffodil and the best, its elegant white petals set off to great effect by a small, red-rimmed cup. Right? Well it really depends on whether you prefer ‘Actaea’ or Recurvus or any number of hybrids, old or new.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer, except where noted.

Above: Pheasant eye narcissus in England. Its center does bear a striking resemblance to the unblinking stare of a pheasant.

Daffodil purists say that old is best. By “old” we could be talking about the very first daffodil in the case of the pheasant eye; certainly the first daffodil of legend. Narcissus poeticus is most closely associated with poor, vain Narcissus of Greek legend, who was turned into a rather attractive flower, white of petal and red of cup because of his habit of staring at his reflection in the water. The story was passed down by the poets.

Above: Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’. Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

The two most readily available pheasant eye varieties, both holders of Royal Horticultural Society awards of garden merit, are N. poeticus ‘Actaea’ which has a wider petal or pelianth (see top two photographs) and N. poeticus var. recurvus , also known as ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’ (above), with reflexed, narrower petals. Because it will not be rushed, and appears a month later than the others, it seems more elite. No matter that by then, people have started to focus on other things, like tulips.

Above: ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’ at Coton Manor, Northamptonshire. Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

The scent of pheasant eye narcissus is sweet and fairly prominent, in a different league from the usual yellow trumpet daffodil smell, and certainly more subtle than the aroma of N. ‘Paperwhite’, which can be provocative in an enclosed room.

Above: Narcissus poeticus ‘Actaea’.

Older narcissus hybrids are often the results of crossing Narcissus poeticus with the British native Narcissus pseudonarcissus. The latter is associated with 20th century poets, rather than the classical sort, namely Robert Frost and Edward Thomas. For more poetic daffodils, see: The Road Not Taken: Robert Frost’s Daffodils in Gloucestershire.

Cheat Sheet

• Purists discern between N. poeticus ‘Actaea’ with the same colors as N. poeticus var. recurvus. The latter is later and daintier.
• After the excitement of early spring daffodils, the later variety also naturalizes well. Grow ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’ separately, so that they are surrounded by freshness, not by decaying neighbors.
• The poetic daffodil is happily unattractive to deer and rabbits.

Keep It Alive

• Choose a sunny or semi-shaded spot that will not dry out during the growing season.
• To appreciate the scent, plant Narcissus poeticus somewhere sheltered, though it does withstand some exposure.
• Plant in autumn, to a depth of one, or one and a half that of the bulb itself.

See more of our favorite springtime flowers:

  • Design Guide: Bulbs & Tubers.
  • Lily of the Valley: A Field Guide.
  • Garden Visit: Daffodil Days at Madresfield Court.

Revealed: The secret of the poet’s daffodil

Image copyright Rodney Lay/RHS Image caption Narcissus poeticus (Pheasant’s eye daffodil)

The secrets of a flower known as the poet’s daffodil have fallen to science.

The genetic code of the daffodil’s chloroplast – the DNA responsible for photosynthesis – has been mapped for the first time.

Narcissus poeticus was one of the first daffodils to be cultivated, and is linked to the Greek legend of Narcissus.

In Greek mythology, the flower that bears his name sprang up where he died.

Researchers from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and the University of Reading deciphered the genetic code of the chloroplast – where the energy from the light of the Sun is turned into food by photosynthesis.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Daffodils are regarded as a herald of spring

Daffodils facts

  • Daffodils have long been considered one of the heralds of spring.
  • They can be planted in borders and containers.
  • The Latin name of the plant family is Narcissus
  • Some species hybridize in the wild, and many horticultural crosses between species have resulted in a large range of colourful garden hybrids.

The research could solve the problem of how to make sure daffodil bulbs planted in bulk come up the same colour.

There are more than 1,500 different varieties of daffodils, and their bulbs all look the same.

Gardeners are sometimes disappointed when the bulbs they have planted in autumn come up a different colour the next spring.

Image copyright RHS/Tim Sandall Image caption Daffodil bulbs ready to plant

John David, head of horticultural taxonomy at the RHS, said chloroplast DNA is a good way of finding a marker that is specific to a particular cultivar (a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding).

“This is an exciting first step in identifying daffodil varieties at the point they are most popularly bought but when there is nothing to tell them apart,” he said.

“With so many bulbs due to be planted this autumn it is a huge industry and we hope our work might avoid disappointment for professionals who plant en masse and gardeners who will often seek out their tried and tested favourites.”

The research is published in the journal, Mitochondrial DNA Part B.

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Daffodil / Narcissus Actaea / Pheasant Eye / Poet’s Narcissus

Most of us don’t think of daffodils as wildflowers. Narcissus Poeticus, the poet’s daffodil, is and it’s been part of history (odes, ballads, lovers’ gifts) for hundreds of years. It’s open flower form, small yellow cup edged in bright red and windswept petals give it a simple, but distinctive appeal. Oh, and then there’s the fragrance. Killer.

Why Grow Daffodils?

  • Classic spring daffodils are cheery, dependable and offer colors, heights and forms to fit any taste
  • Narcissus are long lived; most happily naturalize when their modest needs are met
  • There are daffodils perfected suited to any part of the country; check planting zone info to help make good selections for your area
  • Daffodils aren’t bothered by deer, rabbits or rodents; these plants are ideal for critter-rich regions

This daffodil is grown commercially in the Netherlands and France for its essential oils, used in more than 10% of perfumes worldwide. Pheasant’s Eye was the 2015 winner of the American Daffodil Society’s Wister Award, which is given to one cultivar annually in recognition of outstanding garden performance (versus show table criteria) for daffodils.

Daffodil, Pheasant’s Eye

Daffodil Bulbs: Fall Planted Perennial Bulb

How Plant

Planting Bulbs in Fall:

  • Because your bulbs will probably be left where you plant them for several years, good soil preparation is highly desirable. Daffodils grow best in full sun in a light, well-drained soil enriched with organic matter. Loose, crumbly soil beneath a bulb encourages good growth and promotes drainage; it is a good idea to prepare the soil at least a few inches deeper than the recommended planting depth. Check the proposed site for standing water after a rainfall. If you must plant where the soil is known to remain wet, raise the soil level by 6-12 inches above the surrounding soil.
  • It is a good idea to add fertilizer, such as bonemeal, when you prepare the soil. Be sure to mix the fertilizer into the soil so it does not come into direct contact with the bulbs.
  • The general rule for planting is to cover the bulb with soil to 3 times its vertical diameter. In very cold climates, or where the soil is very light and sandy, plant a little deeper. In heavy soils, or in areas with a high water table, plant slightly more shallowly. Plant all bulbs of a kind, when grouped together, at the same depth so they will bloom at the same time and attain the same height.
  • For planting clumps of bulbs in beds and borders, dig a hole large enough to hold all the bulbs in one group or drift. Set them upright at the bottom of the hole, tops up (pointed side up), and space properly. Press the bulbs into the soil and cover with the prepared soil to the recommended depth. You can also use a trowel to dig individual holes.
  • Daffodils should be planted 6-8 inches deep, 4-6 inches apart.
  • After planting water thoroughly to settle the soil and to encourage the start of root growth. Sufficient moisture is vital to the health of your bulbs; lacking ample rain, it may be necessary to water new plantings once a week in fall. The roots will continue to grow in fall until the soil freezes.
  • Be sure to mark where you planted your bulbs so you know where they are in spring.
  • Add 1-3 inches of mulch for winter protection after the ground freezes.

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