Spring bulbs

… and other flowers. The plants come into bloom on a schedule that’s some complex of day length and temperature. Locally we’ve been having stretches of late cold weather (“patchy morning frost in low-lying areas”, the weather forecasts will say), so some plants are on the late side. Out my front door: the calla lilies are just now opening up, and the Victorian box — Pittosporum — hasn’t yet come into fragrant bloom. (For enthusiasts of resembloid composites: calla lilies aren’t lilies (Lilium), and Victorian box isn’t any kind of box (Buxus); see my 3/17/12 St. Patrick’s Day posting.) But the first narcissus bloomed in January, and a visit with Juan Gomez to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden on Tuesday confronted us with great swaths of blooming narcissus, of many cultivars, as well as tulips, grape hyacinths, and snowdrops.

The tulips included some wonderfully gaudy hybrids, but also a number of plants of some delicate wild variety that I haven’t been able to identify.

While I’m on tulips, this linguistically interesting note from the Wikipedia article:

The generally cup or star-shaped tulip flower has three petals and three sepals, which are often termed tepals because they are nearly identical.

On tepal, from NOAD2:

a segment of the outer whorl in a flower that has no differentiation between petals and sepals. ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from French tépale, blend [that is, portmanteau] of pétale ‘petal’ and sépal ‘sepal.’

(On magnolia tepals, see this 1/19/15 posting. More tepals to come below.)

Narcissus. On the genus, from Wikipedia:

Narcissus … is a genus of predominantly spring perennial plants in the Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis) family. Various common names including daffodil, daffadowndilly, narcissus, and jonquil are used to describe all or some members of the genus. Narcissus has conspicuous flowers with six petal-like tepals surmounted by a cup- or trumpet-shaped corona. The flowers are generally white or yellow (orange or pink in garden varieties), with either uniform or contrasting coloured tepals and corona.

Narcissus were well known in ancient civilisation, both medicinally and botanically, but formally described by Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum (1753). The genus is generally considered to have about ten sections with approximately 50 species. The number of species has varied, depending on how they are classified, due to similarity between species and hybridization.

All Narcissus species contain the alkaloid poison lycorine, mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves. Members of the monocot subfamily Amaryllidoideae present a unique type of alkaloids, the norbelladine alkaloids…. They are responsible for the poisonous properties of a number of the species. Over 200 different chemical structures of these compounds are known, of which 79 or more are known from Narcissus alone.

The toxic effects of ingesting Narcissus products for both man and animals (such as cattle, goats, pigs and cats) have long been recognised and they have been used in suicide attempts. [A plant that poisons even goats is a plant to avoid getting anywhere near your mouth.]


A display of Narcissus cultivars

On the etymologies of the common names, from NOAD2 (note that the first two aren’t entirely straightforward):

narcissus. ORIGIN via Latin from Greek narkissos, perhaps from narkē ‘numbness,’ with reference to its narcotic effects.

daffodil. ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from late Middle English affodill, from medieval Latin affodilus, variant of Latin asphodilus (see asphodel). The initial d- is unexplained.

jonquil. ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from modern Latin jonquilla or French jonquille, from Spanish junquillo, diminutive of junco, from Latin juncus ‘rush, reed.’

There are people who are quick to explain that the three terms have clearly distinct meanings, and perhaps for these people they do. But there’s no general agreement on the usages. (I myself tend to use narcissus for them all, daffodil for the varieties with deep cups, and jonquil for those with shallow cups, but my usages aren’t crisp.)

Grape hyacinths. From Wikipedia:

Muscari is a genus of perennial bulbous plants native to Eurasia that produce spikes of dense, most commonly blue, urn-shaped flowers resembling bunches of grapes in the spring. [That is, ‘plants … that in the spring produce…’, not ‘… resembling … grapes in the spring’; note attachment ambiguity.] The common name for the genus is grape hyacinth… A number of species of Muscari are used as ornamental garden plants.


M. armeniacum

Snowdrops. From Wikipedia:

Galanthus (snowdrop; Greek gála “milk”, ánthos “flower”) is a small genus of about 20 species of bulbous perennial herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small white drooping bell shaped flower with six petal-like (petaloid) tepals in two circles (whorls). The smaller inner petals have green markings.


G. nivalis

Three other spring bulbs that I don’t think we came across on Tuesday: stars of Bethlehem, glories-of-the-snow, and Siberian squills. On the first (Ornithogalum umbellatum), see my 4/3/14 posting, On the second (Chionodoxa), see my 4/3/14 posting. On the squills, from Wikipedia:

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill or wood squill) is a species of flowering plant in the family Asparagaceae, native to southwestern Russia, the Caucasus, and Turkey. Despite its name, it is not native to Siberia.

Growing to 10–20 cm (4–8 in) tall by 5 cm (2 in) wide, it is a bulbous perennial,with two to four strap-shaped leaves appearing in early spring, at the same time as the nodding, blue, bell-shaped flowers.


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