Smaller Narcissus - PBS and Alpine Topic of the Week

James Waddick
Mon, 09 Feb 2004 23:00:51 PST
Dear friends;
         For this week's topic (actually 10 days) we are lucky to have two 
views of a fascinating spring bulb topic. The first is posted below and the 
second will follow tomorrow.  Sure to promote a long wish list for fall 
bulb purchases.

Dave Kanstedt -
         Smaller narcissus have been Dave Karnstedt's focus well before the 
start of his nursery 'Cascade Daffodils' in the mid-80s in MN. He is now in 
not quite  'balmy' Oregon and is currently not selling bulbs. He hopes to 
change that soon.
For more glowing words on Dave see…

         There are a number of smaller species and forms of the genus 
Narcissus that make interesting and rewarding plants for special areas in 
rock gardens, particularly when several of them represent a significant 
challenge to grow successfully. Most daffodil species are native to the 
countries bordering the Mediterranean, the majority to the Iberian 
Peninsula. They grow where there is a distinct rainy season and a 
corresponding dry season. Several of them grow in montane regions, at 
altitudes up to ten thousand feet; still others grow at sea level. 
Daffodils have been grouped into a horticultural classification that 
arranges them in Divisions (1-13) that correspond to certain 
characteristics. This formal classification system enables one to 
categorize them for showing and other purposes. There are also used over 
those 13 Divisions, primarily for show bench purposes, three general 
groupings based loosely on height of the plant and diameter of the 
bloom:  miniature (usually under 12" in height and 50 mm in width); 
intermediate (12-14" tall and less than 80 mm in width); and standards 
(indeterminate height but greater than 80 mm in width). One issue I have 
long been in opposition to is considering a small bloom on a tall stem as 
"miniature."  To my mind, it begs the very definition of miniature. The 
same is true of the recent designation of Intermediate. As far as I am 
concerned, the flowers so grouped should be miniature or intermediate in 
all their characters!  As might be expected, species daffodils vary widely 
in height and width.

Perhaps the smallest, overall, is N. asturiensis known at one time as N. 
minimus. This little trumpet daffodil is all of three or four inches tall 
with a tiny flower barely wider than a fingernail. The trumpet is often 
serrated to the point of being fringed and is bigger than would be 
appropriate for the perianth.  That's the showman speaking! For the average 
individual able to succeed with this snowmelt species, clumps of this in 
earliest spring can be very rewarding.  Recently, there have come on the 
market gross examples masquerading as this species. Supposedly, N. minor, a 
common and highly variable species across much of Spain ranges in size from 
the tiniest forms, e.g., asturiensis, to examples almost as large as 
standard daffodils. In the latter case, something so large loses all 
pretense for being "miniature" and is best ignored. It may be that, 
ultimately, this little gem will be recognized, sadly, merely as a very 
small form of N. minor. Succeeding in a well drained gritty, pH 6 soil kept 
wet during periods of growth and dryish during dormancy (although not "bone 
dry" but shaded from the heat of the summer sun much as it would be by 
grasses and forbs in the mountain meadows that are its home) will be to its 
liking. Intercross the blooms and plant seed each year as my experience has 
been that this is not long lived.  The most difficult part is actually 
obtaining it!

N. minor has been the parent to many small hybrids most of which are both 
very similar and hopelessly mixed in the trade. Because things like 'Little 
Gem,' 'Bagatelle,' and 'Wee Bee' are such good growers, they are widely 
available.  Just don't be convinced that you're getting what you ordered - 
even from specialists! The species, its forms/sports and hybrids all open 
pollinate readily but seldom produce anything that is different or 
better.  If you don't care if they do, i.e., the more the merrier, don't 
pick the pods before they open and let them seed about. If you want to keep 
the clone pure don't let the seed drop in place.

Another little species (with almost sessile blooms on two to three inch 
stems) that is delightful when sited in an area above a pathway where it 
can be readily seen is N. rupicola rupicola and it's still quite scarce 
white form, rupicola waterii. The yellow form can be found growing in 
pockets of humus in rocks in its homeland that are wet during growth and 
bone dry during dormancy. It is sometimes amazing to see just how little 
material there can be in these pockets.  Despite the alkaline nature of the 
rocks on which this is often found growing, the decaying humus provides a 
distinctly acid environment. This is not particularly easy to grow in 
captivity, although, when happy, it can be long lived for a species. I've 
had the same few bulbs for over ten years most of the time growing right in 
the field. They bloom faithfully each spring, but they have shown no 
tendency to crowd into a host of daffodils!  The scarce white form requires 
cooler conditions, damper, distinctly acid soils and protection from the 
heat of the summer sun when dormant. Since this and asturiensis are so 
small, they really should have some protection from the elements and, of 
course, slugs! I mulch mine with a layer of poultry grit to protect them 
from rain-splashed soil because I use them in hybridizing.

The yellow form of this species is one of the parents (the other is N. 
poeticus) of a group of rather widely available hybrids, e.g., 'Sundial,' 
'Sun Disc,' 'Bebop,' and 'Little Sentry.' One distinctive and outstanding 
clone from this group is 'Clare.' It is well worth tracking down, and not 
only because it is a good do-er, as it is a charming flower in its own 
right. One goal I have, as a hybridizer, is to remake this Alec Gray cross 
with better forms of both parents. There is the problem of getting pollen 
to a flower that does not bloom in sync with the pollen donor! One of the 
problems with this species is that the pistil/stigma of rupicola is well 
down in the tube and the flower needs to be torn open to reach it. In a 
way, this is something of a blessing in disguise as the tube can be gently 
rolled between one's fingers to dislodge the pollen from the anthers (that 
occur above the stigma) and pollinate the bloom (without tearing the bloom) 
and, in this way, one can obtain a few seed each season.  With any of the 
daffodil species, it is always wise to plant a few seed each season as 

The white form, waterii, has been used successfully a few times over the 
years to produce both standard ('Ocean Spray, 'Dainty Miss') and miniature 
('Xit,' 'Yellow Xit,' etc.) hybrids. One of the loveliest I've seen (at 
least from its photo) is a seedling obtained from triandrus triandrus 
(albus) and waterii pollen and named 'Craigton Coquette.' It is illustrated 
with a fine photograph on page 412 of Volume 71 of the Bulletin of the 
Alpine Garden Society, "The Alpine Gardener," taken when the exhibited pan 
won a P.C. in April 2003. Two older, very attractive but virtually 
unobtainable hybrids of different form than the above hybrid with triandrus 
triandrus (albus) are 'Raindrop' and 'Icicle.'

That little vignette serves as a good segue to one of the more popular 
species, N. triandrus triandrus, (in its many forms) that seems to do well 
where happy, even modestly seeding about. This is one of the few species 
that I am able to field grow without any particular attention. I will 
pollinate several florets of the various better formed/colored examples in 
the group to gain a small amount of seed to plant each season. A number of 
forms have been given sub-specific rank based on color in this, another 
widely variable species.  People who've seen triandrus triandrus growing in 
the wild in Spain (where it can be locally abundant), report seeing almost 
every color, form and size in the range somewhere in all those examples. I 
grow mine out in the field, in an acidic soil, lightly fertilized each 
fall. After senescence, I will cover the soil with a barrier to keep it dry 
and prevent the Sun from heating the soil.  Even while ostensibly "dry" 
during dormancy, there is usually a bit of moisture in the soil nonetheless 
but for most Narcissus species, moisture and soil warmth is an invariably 
fatal combination. In all the years I have grown this species from seed, I 
have never bloomed a clear white one, although I once saw in a show an 
exquisite example like no other! The flowers of triandrus triandrus (albus) 
have a slight central thickening of tissue in each perianth segment that 
tends to a faintly yellowish hue. While distracting close up, at a 
distance, this is not as noticeable and is only a consideration for a 
hybridizer trying to improve on what Nature has provided!

There is a form of this species, known as loiseuleurii, that is said to be 
native to the Iles des Glenans off the coast of NW Spain/SW France. I don't 
recall if it has ever been found there in the wild since its original 
discovery, however. The plants now seen descend from collections made in 
the last century.  It all parts, it is a rather more robust form of the 
species with larger flowers of somewhat better substance and form, 
although, oddly, not as permanent as the basic species. It tends to 
increase bulb size, rather than splitting, and may be a natural tetraploid; 
work should be done to verify if this is the case. It is fertile and is 
often the form that has been used to produce Division 5 standard daffodil 
hybrids that, until recently, have all been infertile.

Some of the best miniature hybrids, e.g., 'April Tears,' Woodstar,' 
'Hawera,' 'Angel's 'Whisper,' etc. have been produced with the species in 
combination with various species/forms of the jonquilla group. There are 
few finer miniatures than a well-grown stem of 'April Tears,' particularly 
when the stem has five blooms all open and arranged to one side in order of 
ascending size. For the most part, these hybrids will do well just about 
everywhere. 'Hawera,' when happy, can often grow so tall (14-16") as to no 
longer be miniature.  Because the latter is a much better grower than the 
former, one will usually get this clone when purchasing 'April Tears' off 
the shelf. 'April Tears' is best purchased from specialists to be assured 
of the correct clone.

The best for last! N. cyclamineus is a unique species, there is no other 
remotely like it! The segments of the perianth reflex so tightly that they 
are in the same plane with the trumpet, i.e., 180 degrees. Native to 
wooded, riverine benches in Portugal, this species has long been thought 
extinct.  Recent discoveries have in Portugal, happily, proven this not to 
be the case.  If you can keep it content (quite acid, humusy soil that 
never dries out and shaded from the heat of the summer Sun), intercrossing 
the blooms will produce a modest amount of seed each year that should be 
sown to keep the species in your garden. The form of the species has been 
transmitted into a whole range of both miniature and standard hybrids. The 
best forms inherit both the long trumpet and the sharply reflexed perianth 
of the species, along with the downward facing pose and can be most 
attractive. There are both yellow and white forms in these miniature 
hybrids and a considerably greater color range in the standard hybrids. All 
of the miniature hybrids are most desirable little daffodils for the rock 
garden, although it will take some searching to find a source.

I have barely touched on several of the better-known species. There is a 
whole range of bulbocodium and cantabricus forms and hybrids out there that 
remain to be addressed. Many of these tend to be winter bloomers and are 
best in mild climates or grown under cover. Then there are the species of 
the multi-flowered Jonquilla group, again, left to another time. There used 
to be just a handful of daffodil species/forms but, in recent years, this 
has ballooned into dozens, nearly all naturally occurring hybrids between 
adjacent species. There are very few that I've even seen or ever expect 
to!  With so much to choose from, the botanists are having a field day 
reclassifying and renaming all these forms!

While I have grown daffodils for over five decades (and went into business 
to combat an overly aggressive case of "collectivitis"), I find that I 
still am learning something each spring with growing these small species 
and their hybrids. One of the major goals in hybridizing is to introduce 
color into the hybrids. At the moment, alas, one has a limited 
choice:  either white or yellow usually concolorous and, occasionally, 
bicolored. The definitive (and very handy) reference for descriptions and 
photos of the commonly encountered miniature daffodil species and hybrids 
is a publication put out by the American Daffodil Society, "Miniature 
Daffodil Cultivars."  It is available for twenty dollars from the American 
Daffodil Society, 4126 Winfield Road, Columbus, OH  43220.


Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
E-fax  419-781-8594

Zone 5 Record low -23F
         Summer 100F +

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