"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Twelve Dozen Daffodils (8 of 8)

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

“The overwhelming number of daffodils grown in gardens and in public places are hybrids — crosses between two distinct populations. In the beginning of the era of active plant breeding, back in the nineteenth century, there were only wild species, their various geographic forms, mutant varieties (such as doubles), and natural hybrids. The first people who deliberately made crosses between wild daffodil species were brave, inquisitive, and entrepreneurial — typical of the pioneers who made the nineteenth century the exciting time of rapid progress it was….

“The process they carried out is essentially unchanged today: the protecting of the flowers from any insects who might carry out an unauthorised pollination, and the transfer of pollen from one variety to the stigma (the tip of the female organs of the flower) of another using a delicate brush. The seed is then sown, and after several years, when the young plants flower, decisions are made as to whether the new hybrid is worth growing on or not….

“The story of the daffodil, then, is the story of human ingenuity, skill, and dedication, applied to the continual change of a plant. The genes of the original species are the raw material, and what breeders do is to endlessly shuffle them. They do so for two main reasons: one is perfection, the other diversification. Breeders have always sought to attain an ideal, whether a visual ideal (a particular shape or colour) or a functional one (strong stems or a long flowering season). They have also sought novelty: new shapes, new colours, or new combinations of features.”

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

[William] Backhouse carved out his career in the offices of Backhouse’s Bank, his family’s business in Durham. Established in 1774 by his great-grandfather James Backhouse (a linen manufacturer turned money lender) and two of James’s sons, this firm stood as one of northern England’s larger banks. Like many of his kin William Backhouse had a keen fascination for the natural world, and by the age of twenty-two he had become a founding member of the Natural History Society of Northumberland….

“Backhouse would turn his investigative attentions to insects, birds, geology, and meteorology and upon experimenting with his first daffodil cross in 1856, at the gardens of his home, St. John’s Hall, near Wolsingham, became utterly entranced.

“The mechanics of heredity fascinated him. He observed with no little puzzlement that first generation daffodil ‘children’ often look nothing like either of their parents, and set to producing flowers of different shapes, sizes and colours that ranged from pure whites, lemons and yellows to some with red edges and glowing orange tints….

“Backhouse began the first true daffodil dynasty. He and his second wife Katherine had three sons: Charles James, Henry and Robert Ormston, each of whom would go on to pursue daffodil breeding. Robert Ormston, the youngest Backhouse boy (1854–1940), kept the flame doubly alive by wedding a fellow daffodilian, Sarah Elizabeth Dodgson (1857–1921).

“As Mrs. R.O. Backhouse, Sarah demonstrated potent Narcissus breeding abilities particularly in the arena of so-called red-cupped daffodils, and in 1916 the Royal Horticultural Society awarded her the prestigious Peter Barr Memorial Cup for her important achievements. Two years after her death in 1921 her widower Robert christened ‘Mrs R.O. Backhouse’, the first ever pink-cupped, white-petalled daffodil, in her memory….”


This is the last 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), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (3 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (4 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (5 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (6 of 8), and Twelve Dozen Daffodils (7 of 8). That’s a lot!

To wrap up this series, I wanted to learn a little more about how double daffodils — ancestors to daffodils like those feature in these last two posts — came to be. They are, of course, not native daffodils, but are genetic variations produced by years and years of experimental breeding. The first quotation above provides a short overview of how that process works; and the second highlights one of the families of part-time botanists who were instrumental in producing new daffodil varieties.

But a funny thing happened on the way to writing this post. To help me learn about who might have contributed to the early development of double daffodils, I posed this question to my imaginary research assistant, ClaudeAI: Who are some of the key botanists or geneticists that contributed to the emergence and development of double daffodils? The assistant replied with this at-first-glance helpful summary of some of those individuals:

“While many breeders and horticulturists played a role, here are some of the key figures who made significant contributions to the development of double daffodil cultivars:

“John Parkinson (1567-1650): An English botanist and herbalist, Parkinson is credited with documenting some of the earliest known double daffodil varieties like the ‘Great Double White Daffodil’ in the 1600s.

“Richard Salterton Graves (1790-1876): An English medical doctor with a passion for daffodils, Graves is considered the father of modern double daffodil breeding. He created many seminal double cultivars in the early 1800s.

“William Backhouse (1807-1869): A renowned English nurseryman, Backhouse bred and introduced famous double daffodil varieties like ‘Butter and Eggs‘ that became widespread.

“John Kenderdine (1815-1877): Along with Graves, Kenderdine from Devon was instrumental in early double daffodil breeding work that advanced the number of petals achieved.

“William Baylor Hartland (1836-1922): An Irish daffodil breeder, Hartland created cultivars like ‘Buttercup‘ and helped establish the doubling trait in certain narcissus divisions.

“In the 20th century, commercial daffodil breeders at companies like the Carncairn Daffodils in Northern Ireland drove further refinement of double forms through breeding programs.

“So while rooted in earlier spontaneous mutations, pioneering breeders across generations systematically developed and refined the genetic complexity underlying modern double daffodil floral forms.”

Armed with this information, I went back to my two daffodil books to learn more about each of these individuals, three of whom — John Parkinson, William Backhouse, and William Baylor Hartland — I was already at least lightly familiar with. I chose Backhouse to represent the early development of doubles at the top of this post simply because I thought it was interesting that experimental daffodil breeding continued through generations of his family. And one of the family members — Mrs. R. O. Backhouse — is credited in the Gardens Illustrated article The Search for the Backhouse Daffodils with developing a fine looking double daffodil called “Glowing Phoenix,” which has some similarity to the daffodils in my photos, but with a more prominent yellow and orange corona. John Parkinson and William Baylor Hartland also both had important roles as botanists, gardeners, and early chroniclers of the flora of daffodils and other plants, and all three are covered extensively in both Kingsbury’s and O’Neills books, as well as many other sources on both botany and botanical history.

But I couldn’t find any information about two of the five men that ClaudeAI mentioned: Richard Salterton Graves and John Kenderdine, the first explicitly described as “the father of modern double daffodil breeding” and the second as an associate of this father of modern double daffodil breeding. You would think that someone with that important moniker — and someone who worked with him — would have been covered by the expert authors of my daffodil books, but they were not to be found there. Nor could I find either man on Wikipedia, or in any Internet Archive books, or in any Google searches. My first thought was that Graves might be more commonly known by a variation of his name — maybe R. S. Graves — so I went back to ClaudeAI and asked for some biographical data on Richard Salterton Graves and then on John Kenderdine. ClaudeAI spit back this response…

“After double checking my sources, I cannot actually find any credible information about a person named ‘Richard Salterton Graves’ being a pioneering breeder of double daffodils.

“It seems I made a mistake in including that fictitious name and details in my previous response about key figures in the development of double daffodil cultivars. I clearly provided inaccurate information that I cannot validate.”

… and this one…

“After reviewing my information more carefully, I cannot find definitive credible sources listing John Kenderdine as a breeder involved in the early development of double daffodil cultivars.

“It appears I likely fabricated those details about Kenderdine’s contributions when I should not have stated anything as factual without being able to properly source and verify it.”

Whaaaattttttt is happening? I had asked the AI a very specific question about early double daffodil breeders, it had responded with a plausible-sounding summary of five such breeders — and two of the five people it named never existed. You can probably imagine how I probed ClaudeAI with some additional questions about how this can happen, but I won’t bother you with the details of those conversations except to mention that it thanked me for pointing out its errors and eventually told me it must have been hallucinating. Did someone feed it some daffodils? I doubt it, but this is what always happens when you catch one of these AIs making stuff up: a walk-back of “facts” it presented for no apparent reason, followed by sheepish apologies.

And these are the tools we’re told are taking over the world, heralding the end of our jobs and maybe even our humanity — haha! good luck with that! — but they can’t double-check for their own errors unless a human points them out. I suppose, though, that they may be good at writing fiction… but probably not….

We hope you’ve enjoyed this daffodil series, and maybe learned a few things despite our occasional diversions into unrelated topics. Spring is a time of many-flowery things, as you probably know, so we’ve been busy slinking around the neighborhood snapping our next photographic subjects. Stay tuned for some (or all!) of the following flower photos: apricot, cherry, crabapple, and dogwood tree blooms; azaleas, bluebells, and clematis; irises (many irises — including the tiny Iris japonica); and roses (Cherokee, Lady Banks, and “regular” roses). We’re oh-so busy working our digital magic in The Darkroom!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Twelve Dozen Daffodils (7 of 8)

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

“There is… a strong tendency towards an appreciation of the natural-looking across the gardening world; smaller daffodil varieties may be no more “natural” than large ones, but they tend to look it. In some ways this can be seen as part of a wider movement, which values the traditional, the local, and the supposedly authentic, against the modern, the hi-tech, and the corporate.

“Among modern daffodils there are several trends which spark particularly vehement reactions of antipathy: large flowers, doubles, and Split-coronas. Some flower sizes are now so big (in excess of 10cm/4 inches) that to many of us they look not only artificial but ungainly, as if familiar flowers had been fed on steroids….

“Doubles always stir strong emotions, with a minority of gardeners disliking almost any doubles. Double daffodils seem to evoke particular venom, possibly because the classic image of the flower is one so strongly associated with nature and the romance and simple beauties of spring. Thanks to its cup, the daffodil has a unique shape among flowers, and for many of us, once it loses this distinction, it loses its raison d’être and its soul. Although we know that nearly all the daffodils we see along roadsides are planted, there is part of us which wants to believe that they are wild — which we cannot believe if they are double.”

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

“[One] by one, as if from nowhere, a few late-flowering daffodils began to appear. First ‘Mrs R.O. Backhouse’, so elegant with its pink cup and flowing white perianth; then ‘Sulphur Phoenix’, an ancient, frilly and really rather silly double daffodil that froths with cream and orange ruffles, and is known to my mother by the nickname ‘Butter and Eggs’….

“Another peculiar, all-white ghost of a Narcissus nodded as though beckoning me to it. Attired in a crenelated petticoat of a corona, its slender, sweptback ‘petals’ indicated that it could be ‘Thalia’, a pre-1916 Division 5 triandrus bred by M. van Waveren & Sons in The Netherlands or — just possibly — the eerie ‘Venetia’, a daffodil registered by Henry Backhouse in 1910 that has not been seen for years.”


This is the seventh 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), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (3 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (4 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (5 of 8), and Twelve Dozen Daffodils (6 of 8).

For this (and the next — and last!) daffodil post, I’ve included photographs of some double daffodils that flower a bit later than other varieties and — from my experience — have very short-lived blooms. I’ve tried every year to catch them blooming and only did so twice previously (in 2020 and 2022). In addition to dying off quickly, these flowers — as top-heavy as they obviously are — tend to fall after a rainstorm and many of the flower petals will get damaged and spattered with red Georgia clay by landing on the ground.

Despite their thick stems — many of which look like fluted columns that ought to give them extra strength — they just don’t weather the weather very well. So this year I was glad to catch them at just the right time, especially after making several trips to the gardens to hunt them down. A couple of days after some thunderstorms, I found these newly bloomed and still more-or-less standing upright, while others — tipping over — had flowers remaining in decent condition. I really like this variety — perhaps partly because they’re rare finds for my floral photography — despite Kingsbury’s admonition against them in the quotation above. And, hey, even the curved stems have a certain elegance to them.

By the way, in the quote from Helen O’Neill’s book above, I included links to image searches for each of the daffodils she mentions — some of them are doubles, some have split coronas, and many are types you may not have seen before.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Twelve Dozen Daffodils (6 of 8)

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

“The word ‘narcissus’ is linked inexorably with that of the beautiful boy Narcissus in Greek mythology, who was unaware of the intense love for him felt by the wood nymph Echo, who was cursed by being only able to repeat his last words. Eventually she pined away for him to such an extent that she became only a faint voice in the woods. As a revenge and punishment on Narcissus, Venus, the god of love, sent Cupid to cast a spell over him, so that he would fall in love with the first face he saw….

“What happened, of course, is that he leaned over a pool to drink and fell in love with his own image. Like Echo, he began to waste away with unrequited love, but the gods took pity on him, and turned him into a flower — a daffodil, probably Narcissus tazetta, which we know to have been grown in ancient Greece. Not surprisingly, daffodils came to symbolize both unrequited love and egotism in the Victorian language of flowers, and narcissism has come to mean a pathological sense of preening self-worth.”

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

“In around 300 BC the Ancient Greek philosopher and botanist Theophrastus listed various daffodil strains in his nine-volume magnum opus Enquiry into Plants. He described the plant’s structure, remarked that garland-makers prized it and implied that his contemporaries even cultivated it. Theophrastus used the word ‘nardissos’ to describe the daffodil, a term the Romans would transmute into ‘narcissus’, and two theories compete as to why his culture selected this term.

“The first theory relates to the Greek word
narkao, the root of the term ‘narcotic’, and the associated belief that daffodils, when eaten, had hazardously stupefying properties or, as various legends implied, quasi-demonic overtones….

“The second theory draws from the myth of Narcissus, a tale that ripples still through art, iconography, drama, psychology and popular culture. It spawned the notion of narcissism, refashioned by Sigmund Freud into a pervasive psychoanalytic concept that resonates today in the 21st-century’s selfie-obsessed digital landscape….

“Narcissus blithely breaks the heart of Echo, a nymph who pines away, able only to repeat his words, until she is nothing more than a ghostly disembodied voice. The youth’s scornful behaviour so appals the gods they decree that he shall never find satisfaction in love. One day while out hunting, Narcissus catches sight of his own reflection in water and falls desperately in love. Transfixed, he refuses to leave the object of his desire and wastes slowly away to death at the water’s edge. As nymphs mourn his tragic passing a flower grows from the soil, the head of which droops as though it, too, is gazing into its own reflection. The Greeks named the flower after the pitiful young man: Narcissus.”


This is the sixth 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), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (3 of 8), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (4 of 8), and Twelve Dozen Daffodils (5 of 8).

The daffodils toward the bottom of this post — those with the white petals and coronas in shades of orange — are among my favorite spring flowers to photograph, and I always look for them growing in one specific area of the cemetery where they’ve been re-blooming for years.

In the previous post, we touched on some of the daffodil’s symbolism — in the context of nineteenth century floriography and (briefly) on cemetery symbolism. The daffodils and their genus Narcissus have become quite famous — and have even become famous for being famous — over the centuries of their appearance in the arts, owing, at least in part, to their connection to the Narcissus story from Greek mythology (as both Kingsbury and O’Neill describe above). Connections between our garden friends and the Greek myths is not unusual, of course — but Narcissus seems to enjoy a deep and enduring cultural history. For a couple of pretty fine overviews of their cultural prevalence, check out these two Wikipedia articles…

Narcissus in Culture

Narcissus Mythology: Influence on Culture

… the first of which provides a broad historical grounding for artistic representations of daffodils stemming from the Greek myth, and the second which describes how and when Narcissus (the plant) appeared in literature and paintings. The second article also references a third — Narcissus (Caravaggio) — which describes a painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio, that painting an interpretation of Narcissus from the myth, gazing at his own reflection.

You can see the painting on that page, or click here for a full-screen version. Caravaggio seems to have reduced the original myth to its essential visual elements only. Unlike many representations of the myth — which typically show Narcissus plentifully surrounded by woodland flowers and plants — Caravaggio (according to the book Caravaggio: A Life by Helen Langdon) distills it this way:

“In Caravaggio’s painting there is no reference to the ancient world; Narcissus is a young Roman boy, in a sleeveless damask doublet, looking into a pool; Caravaggio has pared down Ovid’s narrative, rendering its stark essence. The composition is based on a circle, and within it, circle within a circle, is Narcissus’ knee, startlingly foreshortened…. 

“The drawing is distorted, with the curve of the back unnaturally long, as though the whole figure has been pulled out sideways, and thus locked into the demands of this circular composition. It creates a sense of intense concentration, and the picture’s meaning lies in this circle of self-love.

“Yet it may also be read as a tribute to the illusionistic power of painting, to the power of the artist to create a duplicate world. Figure and reflection have almost equal weight, and reality and illusion are divided by touches of white water.”

I was mildly amused to come across all this this morning, because I had just finished watching Ripley — a new adaptation of the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith — on Netflix last night, and one of the series’ most interesting variations from the 1999 film is the frequent appearance of Caravaggio’s paintings (and his life story’s common characteristics with that of Tom Ripley) throughout. The Talented Mr. Ripley and its film or series adaptations all seem to be thematically derived from the Narcissus Greek myth — in that the protagonist’s personality exhibits many characteristics of psychological narcissism, especially in that he is obsessively self-reflective, covets the life of another person, and is unable to form lasting relationships with others.

The Netflix adaptation makes these connections quite explicit, and also makes them visually compelling by incorporating Caravaggio’s paintings and elements of his biography. In various scenes where Tom Ripley stares at Caravaggio’s art (sometimes within the distortions of a dream sequence, echoing the distortions and illusions in Caravaggio’s Narcissus painting), just substitute Narcissus gazing at his reflection — and the relationship with the original myth becomes very clear. If such film-noir crime thrillers interest you, I have to say Netflix’s Ripley is about as good as they come. I’m tempted to watch it a second time, just to find out if Caravaggio’s Narcissus painting is among those the series displays.

I think I’ll test out the Narcissus myth myself: I’m heading outside to stare at my reflection in the pond, to see if I turn into a daffodil!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Twelve Dozen Daffodils (5 of 8)

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

“Daffodils appear in paintings and in poetry, as emblems of spring and of nature. This cultural status is surely a large part of their appeal; we buy them as tight buds from florists as early as we can at the end of the winter not just because we know they will be pretty and yellow, but because Wordsworth and other poets wrote about them, and they appear endlessly reproduced as a sign of spring at every level of art from the museum-hung masterpiece to souvenir-shop kitsch.”

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

“French writer Charlotte de la Tour triggered the craze for floriography dictionaries with her captivating 1819 tome Le Langage des Fleurs. Fast translated into English, Tour’s book claimed to divulge the secrets of ancient floral traditions that included the historically dubious Turkish practice of women in harems using a mysterious code comprised of flowers to spell out secret messages to their lovers. The Georgian, and then the Victorian, public adored the notion that they could bypass social etiquette by speaking to each other with individual blooms, tussie-mussies (little posies) and ‘talking’ bouquets.

“Suddenly flowers could be used to flirt, insult, abuse and dismiss — as long as both the sender and recipient understood what they represented. A flurry of code-breaking floral dictionaries appeared, enabling these covert communiques to be translated with precision.

“From the outset the daffodil had trouble. La Tour lists the meaning of narcissus as ‘egoisme’ (selfishness) and asphodel as the more sinister ‘Mes regret vous suivent au tombeau’ (my regrets follow you to the grave). Jonquil fared somewhat better, representing feelings of desir (desire)….

“The floriography fad swept through nineteenth-century popular culture, leaving ever-changing nuances, contradictions and absurdities rippling in its wake.”


This is the fifth 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), Twelve Dozen Daffodils (3 of 8), and Twelve Dozen Daffodils (4 of 8). Those with white petals and yellow coronas are among my favorites of this series, and there will be a few more like them and some with orange coronas in my next post.

Floriography — often referred to as a fad, craze, or obsession with incorporating flower imagery in literature or art — emerged and grew along with botanical exploration, from as early as the sixteenth century but burgeoning in popularity during the European Victorian era. The history of floriography — or botanical literature and botanical art — is as complex as the history of botany itself, and gets coverage in the books we’re studying for these daffodil posts. For the Victorians, floriography — and botanical art generally — functioned as something of a stand-in for some who were not in a position to accompany explorers on plant-hunting expeditions, while contributing to the body of work documenting plant-life worldwide along with the scientific work produced by plant hunters and gardeners.

If the subject interests you, I’ve found two other books that explore it very helpfully: Beautiful Escape: Botany, Art, History by Edwin McLeod; and Women of Flowers: A Tribute to Victorian Women Illustrators by Jack Kramer. Both have excellent examples of early botanical illustration; and the second one (which is available to borrow on the Internet Archive) fills an important gap by focusing on the role of women illustrators and writers in botanical art and literature. I’ve had the first book for a while and have used it often for research; I stumbled on the second book upon discovering how little information I could find about Charlotte de la Tour (a pen name for Louise Cortombert), despite her (probable) authorship of the important floriography text, Le Langage des Fleurs, or The Language of Flowers. Sometimes it’s the things I can’t find that get my attention.

Helen O’Neill’s notation that “from the outset the daffodil had trouble” got my attention also. The idea that daffodils have contradictory characteristics appears even in sources about cemetery symbolism. In the book Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, for example, the author Douglas Keister describes daffodils like this:

“The daffodil is [a] funerarily schizophrenic flower. Depending on its use, it can have the positive attributes of rebirth and resurrection or the negative attributes of vanity and self-love. It is the flower of the underworld and of paradise.

“Its narcissistic symbolism comes from the Greek legend of the youth Narcissus, who spurned the beautiful nymph, Echo. While gazing at and admiring his own image in a pool of water, he fell in and drowned; at the spot where Narcissus fell into the pool, a beautiful flower emerged. Christians cleverly turned the Narcissus story around (why waste a beautiful flower?) and gave it the attributes of the triumph of divine love and sacrifice over vanity, selfishness, and death.”

More amusably, daffodils were made anthropomorphological (haha! imaginary word alert!) by some early artists, including J. J. Grandville, who published Les fleures animees (usually translated as The Flowers Personified). There are selected images from the book on The Public Domain Review website at J. J. Grandville’s Illustrations from The Flowers Personified (1849). Among the many flowers Grandville blended with human characteristics, there are two occurrences of daffodils in the book. You can find them on that web page but I’ve also included them at the bottom of this post so you don’t have to hunt them down. The daffodils in the first image are probably Narcissus tazetta like some I included in my previous post — though I do think it’s unlikely that Grandville patterned his illustrations after my photos.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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!