I was born in love with flowers but with almost no access to nurseries, gardeners, display gardens, or mail-order catalogs. This meant I had to find flowers to admire where I could including the woods and the roadside. One of my favorites to this day is the assortment of naturalized heirloom narcissus (flowers in white clusters), jonquils (flowers in yellow clusters), and daffodils (single yellow trumpets) at old houses and old homesites in rural East Texas.
These all belong to the genus Narcissus and are natives and early wild hybrids from Europe, brought here long ago by early settlers. Here’s a primer on the most common ones that persist.
Grand Primo Narcissus (Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’: This one is adapted to all parts of the state from Dallas and Longview south. It has clusters of creamy-white, intoxicatingly fragrant blooms between February and March and thrives in alkaline or acid soils. ‘Grand Primo’ is a several-hundred-year-old cultivar and the most common polyanthus (tazetta) narcissus in the East Texas. It’s sterile so only propagates by division and is a result of an apparent cross between the paperwhite (N. papyraceus) and the Chinese sacred lily (N. tazetta orientalis). True paperwhites have pure white blooms and bloom between Thanksgiving and New Year’s making them cold sensitive here. N. x italicus has creamy-white, star-like flowers with yellow cups; blooms in mid-January, is also quite common, but prefers a bit farther south.
Wild Jonquils or “Sweeties” (Narcissus jonquilla): This personal favorite is a harbinger of spring and has clusters of tiny yellow, very fragrant blooms between February and March. It multiplies best in acid, sandy-loam soils and is a native of Spain and France. Wild jonquils produce viable seed and will naturalize on good sites if the seed capsules are allowed to ripen.
Campernelle Jonquil (Narcissus x odorus): Campernelles are adapted throughout the state. They produce clusters of medium-sized yellow, fragrant blooms between February and March. In my opinion, it’s the most dependable and showy of them all. It’s an old hybrid between a jonquil (N. jonquilla) and a daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus). Like many initial hybrids, campernelles are sterile (seedless) so only multiply by division.
Texas Star Jonquil (Narcissus x intermedius): These produce clusters of small, pale yellow, fragrant blooms between February and March. It’s a natural hybrid between a jonquil (N. jonquilla) and a narcissus (N. tazetta). Texas Star jonquils are also sterile (seedless), so only multiply by division. They have a fabulous fragrance.
Lent Lily or Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus): This cutie produces small, creamy-yellow trumpets between February and March and multiplies best in acid, sandy-loam soils. It’s a wild species from Spain and France and sets viable seed so will naturalize on good sites. Lent lilies are the parent of all modern daffodils and the subject of Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” poem.
These amazingly adapted perennial bulbs thrive despite no fertilizer, irrigation, pesticides, or division. Unfortunately, they are not available in the commercial Dutch bulb trade. Thankfully, the Smith County Master Gardeners generally offer a different one each year in their annual Earth-Kind Bulbs to Bloom conference and sale which feature heirloom, hardy, and hard-to-find bulbs for Texas and the South. This year’s sale will be a hybrid between on-line and in person and is scheduled for Saturday, October 15 in Tyler. For more information visit the Smith County Master Gardeners website or Facebook page.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com) or follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.