"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Twelve Dozen Daffodils (4 of 8)

Twelve Dozen Daffodils (4 of 8)

From Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower by Noel Kingsbury:

“White Tazetta daffodils are known from the tombs of ancient Egypt, and one of the greatest of the Pharaohs, Ramses II, was buried with daffodil bulbs placed on his eyes. Occasional mentions are to be found in classical texts, and the plants are known to have been grown by the Byzantines, whose Orthodox Christian empire dominated the eastern Mediterranean in the period following the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476.

“The Byzantines were succeeded ultimately by the Ottoman Empire, founded originally by Turkish-speaking nomads from central Asia who, after a few centuries of settling down, began to take gardening and flower culture very seriously. They are known primarily for their love of the tulip, and it was through them that Europe acquired its first bulbs of this flower, but they also cultivated several daffodil varieties, which were also traded into Christian Europe….

“The numbers of varieties slowly and haphazardly increased over time. It is important for us looking back into history to understand that well into the nineteenth century, the concept of species crossing was an alien one. There was no idea that new varieties or species could arise through human intervention — this would have seemed the work of magic, and quite possibly of blasphemy.”

From Daffodil: The Biography of a Flower by Helen O’Neill:

“[A] myth arose linking the daffodil with the captivating romance of the ancient Pharoahs. To this day, an often repeated daffodil ‘fact’ is that Ramses II, a legendarily all-powerful Egyptian leader who died in 1213 BC, was ceremonially prepared for the underworld by having Narcissus tazetta bulbs placed on his eyes or around his neck. Narcissus tazetta has been linked to Ramses II by the identification of dry, scale-like fragments from the plant on the outside of his mummified remains, yet the Egyptologists I spoke to struggled with the notion that daffodils held any meaning for Ancient Egyptians.

“It is easy to understand why some promoting the cult of the daffodil latched onto the cache of Ancient Egypt with such fervour. Some contemporary mythmakers in the cosmetics industry are attempting to do something similar, embracing the supposedly remarkable properties of
Narcissus tazetta bulb extract. The promises are legion, including guarding against the stresses of the modern-day environment, warding off wrinkles, bolstering the skin’s elasticity, combating unwanted hair growth and even, on a cellular level, arresting the passage of time.

“The notion that
Narcissus tazetta could hold the secret to eternal youth is seductive but highly unlikely….”


This is the fourth of eight posts featuring daffodils from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The previous posts are Twelve Dozen Daffodils (1 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (2 of 8), and Twelve Dozen Daffodils (3 of 8).

We’re halfway through the daffodils, folks. I wonder if I missed any….

As was alluded to in my first post, daffodils — like many of our favorite plants and flowers — have embedded themselves not only into mythology but into world cultures overall. Even without agents — or should we say: agency — they’ve become actors in the human story as well as the story of botany. Sometimes their presence is more generic — such as the well-known tale of reflection-gazing Narcissus as the progenitor of narcissism and (some might say) the selfie; and other times, a specific variant makes an appearance as a stand-in for the plant family, as Narcissus tazetta does for the Egyptians.

Fast-forward through the eras of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Ottoman and Christian empires, to the British empire and then to current days — and you run smack into late-stage capitalism, which commodifies everything and, apparently, tries to embrace a nostalgia around the mythological powers of daffodils.

If I had known that Narcissus tazetta (shown in the last four photos below) was allegedly capable of “guarding against the stresses of the modern-day environment” — as Helen O’Neill mentions above — I would have made a little garden and planted tazettas in my cubicle back when I was working. Eternal youth would have been a nice bonus!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


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