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.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!