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Daffodil aka Narcissus in Permaculture

When we think of daffodils, also known as Narcissus, we often believe them to be pretty much for ornamental purposes. But in permaculture, they are a great companion plant and highly useful in a fruit tree guild.

Echo and Narcissus

The namesake of daffodils comes after Narcissus, the Greek mythological son of a river god. Narcissus was in love with his own beauty, to the exclusion of others, and stared at his image in the river. The flower tilting is reminiscent of Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in the water. The myth goes that where he died, the flower sprung up.

Narcissus originated in southwest Europe and northern Africa. From the American Daffodil Society:  “there are between 40 and 200 different daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and over 25,000 registered cultivars (named hybrids) divided among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system.”

The bulbs and leaves contain poisonous crystals which only certain insects can eat with impunity. These crystals contain lycorine, an alkaloid known for its ability to induce vomiting and gastrointestinal cramping. The bulb is especially toxic to mammals. The leaves are poisonous to livestock and are not appealing to deer nor rabbits. They repel voles, moles, burrowing rodents and trunk burrowing insects.

However, if used in proper proportions, Narcissus has medicinal use for humans. According to Fragrantica, “Romans were using narcissus unguent for creation of fragrance called Narcissinum. Arabs used it in their perfumery, as well as to cure baldness. In India, the oil of narcissus, as well as fragrant oils of sandal, jasmine, and rose, is applied to body before prayer. In France it was used for treating epilepsy and hysteria. It was used in cosmetics as an additive to powders, soaps and lipsticks. In China narcissus is associated with good fortune and gain. And today narcissus is a symbol of awaking and hope.” See more at A Modern Herbal.

Essential oil of Narcissus calms nerves and helps release stress and tension. Still, it requires careful handling, because higher doses of narcissus oil can cause headache and vomiting.

Daffodils out-compete the growth of grass into the tree ring. Planting a ring at the dripline and around the trunk give the best results for all the benefits listed so far. See the PDF file, Using Daffodils in Fruit Tree Guilds

The nice thing about daffodils is they are sustainable. Once planted, unless they get diseased or bug ravaged, they are virtually a no-care plant that will bloom and multiply, year after year.

Finally, they are a beneficial insect attractor. They will draw pollinators and stop flowering about the time first buds in the orchard begin to bloom, so they won’t out-compete fruit buds for the pollinators.

At our garden club community orchard, we planted daffodils around some 25 trees this past fall. It took seven bags, 90 bulbs each, that I purchased at Costco for as little as $10 a bag on closeout sale. It took about six hours altogether and 2-3 of us to plant those.

Not only will these flowers bring multiple benefits to the orchard, they will add beauty as well!

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9 comments

  1. That is great to know, I’d never heard of the companion planting side of things. My 4yo boy wants to grow daffodils so I’ll have a better idea on where and how to plant them in relation to the rest of the garden. Thank you for sharing 🙂 Beautiful photos too.

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    • I never knew about this until just this year! After learning about it, I did more research, to be sure it was a good choice for putting under our fruit trees. I didn’t mention it, but I also planted them along the outside of a bed, to keep grass from creeping into the bed, at our garden plot. So I’m not only using them in the orchard, but also along borders. I always thought they were just decorative! =) Thanks for visiting!

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      • Oh that is a great idea, I have some of my veg in rows, and in this particular area there is grass growing between rows, the daffodils will be great, thanks for the tip!

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  2. I have them all over my garden and never knew they were used in permaculture. Very interesting + educational post:-) I have not seen too many bees visit daffodils in my yard ,but I have a lot of other things blooming a the same time in early spring, so maybe they are visiting that instead. I love them poking up through the snow. Nice thing the chipmunks here do leave these alone!

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    • When I took a class on fruit trees at the Resiliency Institute, they had incorporated daffodils. So I got to researching them more deeply. I seriously thought they were only ornamental up until then. haha Live & learn

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  3. Just a note that Chris Condello, who blogs here on WP, says that it’s a permaculture myth that daffodils can block grass. But he says to plant them anyway 🙂

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    • Then far too many people are repeating that myth since I found those statements in various places. I guess we’ll find out the real test this coming spring. Not only did we put gobs of them in the orchard, but also our garden plot, outside the fence where grass is the road and grows up to the fence. I also subscribe to Chris but didn’t read where he said that. I’ll be reporting on my findings later on. =)

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