Paperwhites

The narcissus is actually a genus of plants that contains several different varieties, the most popular of which are the daffodil, paperwhites, and jonquils.  It may seem odd to have narcissus, a typical spring flower, as the birth month flower for December, but the bulbs for all of these plants can be easily forced to grow indoors.

History

Most varieties of Narcissus originate from the Mediterranean region, although a few can be found throughout central Asia.  The name “narcissus” comes from the Greek word “narke,” which means numbness or stupor.  This could either be related to the fragrance of the flowers, or to the poisonous nature of the bulb.  In Greek legend, the Narcissus sprang up from the body of Narcissus, a man so obsessed with his own appearance that he stared into a lake at his reflection until he fell in and drowned.


From the Mediterranean region, the plant spread to Europe where it became immensely popular in Britain and Holland.  It was brought over to America by settlers.  Almost every variety in the US today descends from these original plants.

How to Grow

Plants of the Narcissus genus are very easy to grow.  They will grow in almost any location, though they do prefer sunny spots with well-drained soil.  The best time to plant is in the fall between August and November.  Put them at a depth that’s three times the length of the bulb.  For earlier blooms, make sure the pointed end is up (this is where the stem emerges.)  If you plant them where you’ll be mowing, as in the yard, make sure to plant them a little deeper.

The plant looks best if you arrange them in groups of eight or more.  Also, make sure to remove faded flowers.  Although it’s tempting to remove the foliage as well as it wilts, it’s more beneficial to next year’s bloom to leave it at least six weeks after flowering.    The plant will reproduce more bulbs year after year, so after it becomes too overgrown (usually about 5-10 years), dig up some at the beginning of summer and transfer them to another spot in your garden.

Growing paperwhites indoors is extremely easy.  You don’t need to chill the bulb, or even any soil.  Simply place some stones into a container, then place the bulbs on top, pointed end up.  Cover the rest of the bulbs with more small stones.  Water the plants, but be sure not to let the water come up over top of the bulbs, as this may cause them to rot.   Keep the plant in a cool spot.  Once you see roots develop, then transfer to a sunny location that’s not too warm.  Add more water as necessary, making sure to keep the water level no higher than the bottom of the bulb.  The plant should bloom in about three weeks.  After it blooms, move it out of direct sunlight to keep the flowers longer.

Narcissus in the Language of Flowers

Narcissus is synonymous with stay sweet, self-esteem, vanity, rebirth and new beginnings.  It’s associated with winter’s end and prosperity.  When you send someone a bouquet of narcissus, you are sending them happiness.  You’re also sending a message of regard and letting them know you hope they will return your favor.  However, if you send a single bloom, that can foretell misfortune.  It also says vanity and self-involvement.