REPLY: 'KING ALFRED' daffodil -- was Pacific BX 89

Jim McKenney
Wed, 11 May 2005 13:47:55 PDT
Whether or not the true King Alfred still exists in commerce is a question I
have often pondered. What is certain, however, is that King Alfred was
illustrated in various publications early in the twentieth century. I often
give talks about bulbs to garden clubs; for years I've been using a
photograph of one of the two photographs of 'King Alfred' from Calvert's
Daffodil Growing for Pleasure and Profit (1929) to give people an idea of
what this once preeminent cultivar looked like. However, these photographs
themselves presage the doubts we now experience in identifying plants of
this cultivar with confidence: keeping in mind the very narrow limits within
which daffodil cultivars of a given division vary, I would not be surprised
if someone made two cultivars out of the plants illustrated in these two

There are also photographs of 'King Alfred' in David Griffiths various
daffodil publications from, roughly, the period between the two World Wars.
These photographs have an odd quality, almost as if they are negatives or
anatomical illustrations of transparent flowers. This has the peculiar
advantage of forcing you to view them more objectively - they're certainly
not beautiful. 

The one thing which immediately separates 'King Alfred' from modern trumpet
cultivars (and for that matter, from most of the trumpets of Calvert's time
so fast was daffodil breeding going at that time) is the poor development of
the perianth of 'King Alfred': the perianth segments are narrowish, not
smooth, slightly irregular and comparatively small. 

Of course it is frequently illustrated in catalogs of the period, but the
catalog illustrations often romanticize it beyond recognition. 

'King Alfred' is old enough to have received an FCC in 1899 according to
Calvert (I don't know how to reconcile that date with what follows). 

According to Calvert "It was in 1901 that raisers had the shock of their
lives when the little known Mr. Kendall put King Alfred before the R.H.S.
Narcissus Committee." Calvert goes on to say that Kendall had raised a stock
of 'King Alfred' before showing it, and that one hundred bulbs were reputed
to have changed hands that first year. I can't cite an example, but I
wouldn't be surprised if confusion about the true 'King Alfred' began
shortly afterward - if only because demand was so great right from the

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the true 'King Alfred'
has doubtless only been represented by pretenders to the throne.  

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