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How the Narcissus Got its Name

20160918aIn this season when thousands of gardeners are planting fall bulbs, among them daffodils or narcissus (Narcissus spp.), it may be worthwhile remembering the Greek legend that gave this plant its name. There are several versions of the myth, including the following.

Thy nymph Liriope consulted a soothsayer shortly after the birth of her son Narcissus and he warned her that her son would live to be very old, but only on the condition that he never see his own image. Therefore Liriope did everything in his power to remove any mirrors or shiny surfaces from their home. Narcisse thus grew up never having seen his own reflection.

He became a young man of great beauty, but imbued with himself and insensitive to love. As a result, he turned away many suitors. One day he sent Ameinias, particularly persistent, the gift of a sword and the latter used it kill himself, but not before calling the wrath of the gods upon Narcissus.

Ameinias’ prayers were unwired and thus one day Narcissus discovered a particularly calm spring of the purest water. When he looked down upon it and saw his reflection in the water, he fell instantly in love with the handsome young man he saw and refused to leave the spot. Since the image remained insensible to his entreaties, one day he killed himself with a knife and his blood spread over the ground.

But the gods took piety on his grieving mother and so from his blood was born a white flower whose eye always looks downward, hoping to see its own reflection. That flower, of course, came to be known as narcissus and will forever bear the name of the handsome but ill-fated youth. And any person too filled with self-love is now said to be narcissistic.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “How the Narcissus Got its Name

  1. Pingback: 2017: The Year of the Daffodil – Laidback Gardener

  2. Pingback: Daffodil, Jonquil or Narcissus? – Laidback Gardener

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