Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus)
Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus)

You know Spring is around the corner when the oxalis blooms, as it started doing in the park a week ago. But Spring hasn’t actually arrived until the Narcissus blooms. And that has now happened. Over on the west ridge, not far north of the gravel trail leading from the dog park to the Bay shore, stands a bushy little Narcissus plant that has had its portrait taken around this time for several years past. It’s become the official semaphore of the Spring season. There were other Narcissus plants on the east shoreline, but it looks like the extensive rip-rap work done there in 2019 wiped them out.

The Narcissus plant — aka daffodil or jonquil — is one of the most storied items in the floral universe. I recommend reading the entire Wikipedia article about it. You may be amazed. What particularly struck me was the split meanings that cling to the plant. On the one hand, it’s the symbol of spring, new life, awakening, healing, etc. The daffodil is, for example, the emblem of cancer societies’ fundraising efforts. But the plant is toxic, has been used as a suicide drug, and has a long association with death, notably that of the mythical Greek youth who locked onto his own reflection in the water until he drowned and was turned into this flower. The plant is so noxious that you’re advised not to put cut narcissus into the same vase with other cut flowers, as the narcissus stem bleeds a chemical that will kill the others — a very narcissistic quality. Some sources dispute the notion that the plant was named after the mythical self-obsessed youth and suggest instead that its name derives from the Greek word for narcotics. The odor of certain species is said to cause trances and hallucinations, and various concoctions of the plant’s parts have served to address every disorder from baldness to flat feet. One medical use that has survived modern scrutiny is in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Needless to add, a flower so ancient and adorned with legend has inspired a great deal of literature and art. Check that Wikipedia article for references. Here just one small sample, a poem by the British Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud 

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Note that the “never ending line / along the margin of a bay” didn’t happen here. In the park we have maybe three or four narcissus plants discovered so far. But we can dream, can’t we?

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