Daffodils: Signs of Spring

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.


Daffodils under crape myrtle

Some daffs popping up under a crape myrtle

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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8 Responses to Daffodils: Signs of Spring

  1. Nice post, Ted.
    I was doing some research on apple orcharding recently, and saw a suggestion to ring a newly-planted tree with daffs, because the voles won’t cross it to eat the bark. Sounds good to me – and pretty!

    • tedmanzer says:

      I think that’s a great idea! It probably wouldn’t be feasible for a commercial orchard, but for the home garden situation it sounds like something definately worth trying. There could be no downside. Ted

  2. sbright16 says:

    It’s amazing that deers don’t like and know not to eat them.

  3. It’s cool that deer know what to eat and what not to eat.

  4. amandawensel says:

    I know now to not let my dog eat these, i didn’t know they were toxic?

  5. awhitenhs12 says:

    I did not know they were toxic, I see these plants every spring, they are very pretty plants, but had no clue they were harmful at all.

  6. curtis24 says:

    That is crazy i never knew daffodils were poisonous.I think that they are very pretty,but deer can even tell that they are bad.Can this plat affect humans?So now i know if have a pet to not let eat them.

  7. curtis24 says:

    That is crazy i never knew daffodils were poisonous.I think that they are very pretty,but deer can even tell that they are bad.Can this plant affect humans?So now i know if have a pet to not let eat them.

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