The Truth Behind the Wild Daffodils of the American South

Truth Behind Dafoils

I stumbled across random patches of Wild Daffodils while hiking with my family through William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh, North Carolina. They sprouted from clusters of fallen trees, and along dried creek beds, and stuck out like sore thumbs.

I found them in places one wouldn’t expect to see such a cultivated garden bulb. My curiosity was peaked, and when I questioned a park ranger about them, she told me the fascinating truth.

“Those wild Daffodils aren’t wild at all, they were planted right where you found them.”

A Brief History of the Daffodil

The earliest known species of Daffodil originated and thrived in the near tropical climate of Northern Africa, the Western Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula. A variety of other species were found to spread along the mountainous regions, and in grasslands and forests throughout Northern Europe.

Ancient Greeks and Egyptians Likely Used Daffodils for Medical Purposes.

Be aware that Daffodils are highly poisonous! In fact, they were actually used as such. Ingesting the flower or root will cause vomiting, followed by paralysis of the central nervous system and death. Teas were made and used to induce vomiting for various illness or to use topically on the skin as an astringent. An ointment made from the root was used to treat burns.

European Horticulturalists Began Cultivating and Cross Breeding the Popular Flower in the Mid-1500’s.

Early classification of the Narcissus Serotinus (Daffodil) in 1597

By the 18th century, Daffodils had been cultivated into a booming industry based in The Netherlands. While colonizing the Americas, Daffodils were found to thrive in the humidity of the southern region of the U.S. They were heavily imported for use in the extensive and showy gardens of the antibellum estates. Even former Presdisent George Washington, an avid gardener, had a variety of Daffodils on his  Mt. Vernon Estate.

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The American Civil War decimated the southern landscape, and brought lavish plantation style living to an end. During the reconstruction, families moved closer to the growing cities. Large parcels of land were divided and sold to establish smaller farms and communities. Some plots were simply abandoned. Over time, thousands of acres had even been sold or donated to local governements to establish State Parks, Conservation Areas, and Wildlife Preserves.

Daffodils Growing on State or Federal Land

Often times, when uncultivated land is assimilated into a protected park, it remains untouched. Dilapidated structures may be demolished, and trees cleared, to provide a safe and recognizable pathway for hikers, but any prior landscaping is usually left to fend for itself. Therefor, depending on the climate, many perennials could continue to thrive wherever they were originally planted.

We Returned to the Scene 

Going back to where we had originally spotted those misfit flowers, we examined the surrounding area. Lo and Behold, we found the remnants of a stone foundation and scorched chimney bricks.

Much of them were hidden beneath the underbrush, but there way were, like shadows of our nation’s past. Just a little further into the woods, we found another crumbled foundation.

But what about the flowers in the dry creek bed?

As time and weather has eroded some of the land, Daffodil bulbs have washed out of their original beds. Local floods have carried them down the hills and along the waterways. Since that time, smaller creeks have dried out, allowing the flowers to settle and flourish.

Be sure to look around the next time you walk through a designated State park anywhere from Delaware on down. You may just be looking through time.

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Fun Fact: It is preferable to plant the bulb, however Daffodils do produce seeds in the bulbous head located behind the flower. It typically takes up five years to produce a blooming flower from seed.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jefferson mckenney

    March 21, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    Though confident, your park ranger was incompletely accurate. Narcissus spread both sexually and asexually. While they may most commonly be introduced into an area by human cultivation, they can and are often spread to places they were never planted originally by wind, erosion, animals and insects.

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