Narcissus is a classical Greek name in honor of a beautiful youth who became so entranced with his own reflection that he pined away and the gods turned him into this flower. Although the name daffodil is often applied only to the larger trumpet-flowered cultivars, with the short-cupped and multi-headed cultivars referred to as narcissi, breeders and other enthusiasts refer to all kinds as daffodils.
Narcissus species are found in a variety of habitats in Europe and North Africa ranging from sea level to subalpine meadows, woodlands and rocky places. Spain hosts the greatest variety of species, but they can also be found in Morocco, Portugal, western France, Italy, and other countries.
Daffodils were introduced into gardens at a very early stage in the history of man. About 300 BC, the Greek botanist and philosopher Theophrastus listed and described many of the earliest known kinds of narcissus in his nine-volume ‘Enquiry into Plants‘. However, it was not until the 19th century that classification of the many narcissus species was attempted.
Due to their popularity as cultivated plants, thousands of cultivars have been bred by hybridizers or “raisers” around the world. These cultivars are usually grown in spring, or less frequently in autumn or winter. The perianths (petals) are mostly yellow or white but can occasionally be orange, green, or red or a combination of these colors. Today, many cultivars have brightly colored coronas (cups) which may be yellow, white, pink, orange, red, green or a combination of these.
In 1884 the first daffodil conference of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) was held and its Narcissus and Tulip Committee was formed (now called the Daffodil and Tulip Committee).
The RHS first introduced a division classification “list” in 1908 for garden and show purposes. Seven divisions were adopted, primarily based on size measurement.
By 1910, an expanded list of eleven divisions was published which, with some small amendments, served until 1950.
The eleven division scheme was enlarged to twelve in 1969, when split-corona daffodils were added and were given Division 11, while the miscellaneous daffodils formerly in Division 11 were moved to the new Division 12.
In 1975, the RHS adopted the more descriptive color coding system developed by Dr. Tom Throckmorton of Iowa, United States.
In 1998, at the request of the Royal General Bulbgrowers’ Association of The Netherlands, Division 11 was separated into two sub-groups: Collar and Papillon split-cup daffodils.
The twelve divisions were expanded to thirteen in 1998, when Bulbocodium hybrids were added. These were given Division 10, while the daffodils distinguished solely by their scientific name were shifted from this division to Division 13.
The RHS, as the International Daffodil Registration authority for cultivars, plays a vital role in promoting uniformity, accuracy and stability in the naming of Narcissus.
The RHS division classification consists of thirteen divisions or groups of daffodils, identified by numbers. Each daffodil cultivar or garden hybrid is placed into one of the first twelve divisions. Wild forms of daffodils or “species” are placed in Division 13. Whether wild or cultivated, once a selection has been distinguished by a cultivar name it is assigned to one of Divisions 1 to 12.
The Throckmorton color coding system, which is part of the official RHS daffodil classification system, divides the perianths (petals) and coronas (cups) into three zones with the color codes Y, W, O, R, P, or G.