Daffodils: History, Story, and Dementia Connections

Daffodils (photo by Deb Watley)

It’s almost daffodil time in South Dakota! Well, not quite. Soon. I planted daffodil bulbs last fall, and I’m looking forward to watching the plants grow and bloom into little bunches of sunshiney-color.

Daffodil is the common name for any flowers in the narcissus (Latin/scientific name) genus. Daffodils are sometimes called jonquils, but jonquils are one species of daffodil.

Daffodils come from regions around the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East. The Ancient Greeks and Romans loved the flowers. In fact, Romans brought daffodils with them to Britain. They thought the flowers had medicinal benefits. Turns out, they were right.

Now farmers in Wales are growing fields of daffodils for a specific plant extract, galantamine, that is used to slow the progression of dementia.

Daffodils also have a couple big connections to literature. The first is to the Greek myth of Narcissus, a man given good looks and immortality by the gods. The wood nymph named Echo fell in love with him, he rejected her, and she grieved until nothing was left but her voice. One of the goddesses, Nemesis, punished Narcissus by causing him to see his reflection in a pool of water. He fell in love with his appearance and would not look away from his reflection. Eventually, he disappeared and a flower was left.

The daffodil may or may not be the actual flower the Greeks associated with the myth. But the scientist Linneas picked a certain wild daffodil species he thought was “the one.” He named it Narcissus poeticus (Poet’s Daffodil).

The other major daffodil-literature connection is William Wordsworth’s famous poem, Daffodils (written in 1804 and inspired by a journal entry of his sister, Dorothy). The poem begins with the line, “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” and ends, “And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.”

In another serendipitous connection, in the video below, Gary Glazner is reciting the last two lines of Daffodils with a class of preschoolers. The really wonderful thing is he uses poetry (and started the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project) to interact with dementia sufferers.

Dementia has, and continues, to affect my family. So, I love it that my favorite spring flower helps, in more ways than one, those who suffer from dementia.

For more information:

The Flower Expert

American Meadows

The American Daffodil Society

National Symbols of Wales

Treating Alzheimer’s Disease With Daffodils

Wordsworth Trust

The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project

Do you grow daffodils? What other daffodil-story connections are there? Especially with stories for children? What is your experience reciting poetry with children? Elderly? Dementia patients?

4 comments

  1. jheitman22

    Debbie, this post contains amazing information! I always wondered about daffodils vs. jonquils, etc., and now I know. More importantly, how wonderful that these cheery flowers can be used to slow the dementia process! Thank you!

  2. Steve Arnold

    Deb, I wasn’t familiar with the dementia connection, but I’ve always loved daffodils – the early spring flowers are all among my favorites. They are just starting to bloom at my parents’ home in Cedar Rapids, although here (just a bit to the north) I have yet to see any of my own peeking out of the soil yet.

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