narcissus is a narcissus

Jim McKenney
Tue, 16 Mar 2004 16:56:59 PST
Judy wrote:

>If you look in Clusius - Charles L'Escluse, Rariorum aliquot stirpium per
>Pannonian, published in Antwerp in 1583 - several of the woodcut
>illustrations are captioned as narcissus, others as pseudonarcissus.

And in fact, it's older than that. According to Bowles (Handbook of
Narcissus),  "Pseudo-Narcissus was first used for trumpet forms in
Dodoens's Hist. Plantarum in 1557, and Lyte in his translation of 1578 used
Bastarde Narcissus."

Can anyone come up with an earlier citation?  

I really do believe that the widespread use of "narcissi" to refer to small
cupped daffodils is attributable to Parkinson's influence. It's doubtful if
many English-speaking people read (both tenses implied) Clusius, but
Parkinson has been a household name (at least in gardening households) for
centuries. It was Parkinson who confusingly divided daffodils into small
cupped (to use a more modern term) Narcissus and the trumpets

Keep in mind that in those days, nomenclature was just Latin. It would have
been entirely proper back then to pluralize Narcissus as "narcissi", and
this is the usage which has survived in popular usage. 

Nowdays, nomenclature is not just Latin: it's considered poor form to
pluralize generic epithets. Narcissus is properly used in both a singular
and plural sense. 

A list member wrote to me privately and asked why I thought it was that so
many daffodil experts seem to prefer daffodil to Narcissus. I think the
history of the word provides an answer: the popular sense of the word
narcissus, and it's just as likely to be used in the plural, narcissi, is
narower than the modern sense of the generic epithet Narcissus. In the
popular sense (at least in this part of the world), narcissi are the small
cupped sorts and daffodils are the trumpets. This is, more or less,
Parkinson's usage. Daffodil experts know that there is a lot more to the
genus than the small cupped sorts. So to avoid possible confusion, and
perhaps to avoid guilt by association, they are likely to avoid using
Narcissus when speaking to people who might not be aware of the potential
ambiguity involved. 

Back in the old days, when a proper daffodil nodded, the vernacular name
daffodil somehow seemed so appropriate to these homey flowers. I think many
of us still think that daffodil is a fine name, and that somehow Narcissus
(with it questionable associations such as narcotic and narcissism) is
outlandish for such familiar flowers. It is my personal practice to always
pronounce the "c" in Narcissus with the Latin sound (i.e. k) to enhance
this outlandish quality.

By the way, Judy, our gardens must be on about the same schedule:
Rijnveld's Early Sensation opened only yesterday here.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland zone 7, where I'm still waiting for someone to
ask the jonquil question.   

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