The daffodils are beginning to bloom. Those glorious yellow trumpets are springing up everywhere, signaling spring is almost here. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for them, but never one in my stomach. Daffodils and all related Narcissus are poisonous.
Those with pets, especially dogs, should be especially aware of this. Sometimes dogs indiscriminately dig things up and chew on them, so be careful where your dog hangs out in your absence. Leaves are also toxic, but a just few grams of daffodil bulb could pose a major problem.
If you suspect that your dog has ingested a daffodil bulb call your veterinarian immediately and explain the situation. Being cautious is fine, but don’t be paranoid. Most animals pass them by without any desire to eat them. They taste bitter.
Common symptoms of daffodil poisoning are diarrhea, vomiting, staggering, and collapse. If a large quantity were consumed, death could occur in just a few hours. Toxins responsible for this are alkaloids, chemical cousins to caffeine, morphine, and nicotine. Drug companies, particularly in Europe, are experimenting with daffodils to treat Alzheimer’s. Galantamine is the alkaloid isolated from daffodils which has shown promise in treating the disease.
Herbal medicines are gaining popularity, but not all naturally occurring chemicals are safe, especially alkaloids. Most alkaloids are fatal in heavy doses, so even though some pharmaceuticals are synthesized from them, don’t ever experiment for yourself. Daffodils are poisonous! Leave it at that.
Even deer refuse to graze these plants, so they are a great choice to include in naturalized landscaping around here. Mice, squirrels and rabbits don’t like them either. Tulips and crocuses are gorgeous, but few have any success with them in this area. Look around, you won’t find many. Deer will yank them up in a heartbeat and mice will whittle the bulbs up before you know there is a problem.
Daffodils hang in there. They also remain healthy for generations. Some have survived in landscapes for over a hundred years, brightening our Februaries and Marches. Soil borne insects and nematodes also are less of a problem on daffodils than on most bulbs.
What weakens a stand of daffodils most is mowing them down too soon after they bloom. These plants need several weeks to build energy back into the bulb after blooming, so they can be beautiful in future years. Let them die down naturally if possible. If that is a problem, try to wait until they begin to turn yellow. Sometimes an answer is planting a few annuals or taller later maturing perennials around them as camouflage.
We have so many beautiful types to adore. Some use the terms daffodil, jonquil and narcissus interchangeably. Others insist there is a difference. Both daffodils and jonquils belong to the genus Narcissus, but as general rule daffodils have only one flower per stem and jonquils have two to several smaller ones and are quite fragrant. The American Daffodil Society gets a little fussier in their classification, so I apologize for my simplicity.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.