Plant of the Week
Latin: Narcissus jonquilla
Names are a part of life, and in horticultural names are critical in our
understanding of plants. But the bewildering tapestry of names that confront
gardeners – everything from the Latin binomial to several equally valid common
names for any given plant – cause confusion, even among the pros in the field.
Jonquil is one of the plants whose name has been erroneously applied to some
of its kin, clouding the issue of identify. Jonquil is one of the species
narcissus, collectively known as daffodils, that was introduced into gardens
from its native home in Spain and Portugal.
Jonquil flowers in March and April on slender stems about 16 inches tall.
Each stem bears two to six fragrant, bright yellow blossoms that are about the
size of a quarter. The cup of the plant is tiny, usually only about one-fourth
as long as the petals of the flower.
Jonquil is the most fragrant of all the Narcissus species. Its scented
hybrids can often trace their fragrance back to this species.
The leaves are unlike those of the typical daffodil. They’re a black, greasy
green color, round in shape with a groove down the upper surface. They begin
growing from the slender bulb during the mild days of the fall. By spring, when
the plants flower, the tips are often burned by severe winter weather.
The jonquil has a long history of cultivation. It’s generally believed that
introduced the plant into England during the early years of the Christian
era. They believed that the mucilaginous sap of the bulb had curative
properties, which turns out not to be the case.
The name Jonquil is derived from the Spanish word jonquillo, which is
a kind of rush and refers to the rush-like leaves of the bulb.
The name "daffodil" comes to us from the Greek word "asphodel," which was
used to refer to any of several species of bulbous plants that bloomed in the
spring. In Greek mythology, the asphodel was believed to cover the pastures of
hell. When the word was introduced into England by Roman soldiers, the name was
applied to the non-fragrant, single-flowered Narcissus we know today as the
With the introduction of both multiple-flowered jonquils and single-flowered
daffodils into the Colonies, some name swapping seems to have taken place. The
small-flowered jonquil has never been as popular in American gardens as the
single-flowered daffodil. In the South, the name "jonquil" seems to have been
used for the more common single-flowered form, which correctly should be called
I’ve also heard daffodils called "Easter lilies" in rural parts of Arkansas,
so the mixup between daffodil and jonquil is infinitely less confusing than
calling the plant a lily.
Jonquils are not commonly available from bulb merchants, but they are common
around old gardens and cemeteries. They can be dug and divided during any
season, but the best time for division is in late spring as the foliage begins
to die down.
Jonquils do best in full sun but will tolerate light shade and still bloom
well. Once established, the plants require little care until it’s time for you
to divide plants to share with your gardening friends.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
March 30, 2001
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.
Back to Archives I - L