January 2011

Narcissus romieuxii .

Text and photographs by Bob Mitchell
     There is something special about bulbs.  They entrance, surprise and delight the grower.  Even more so when they flower at that quiet time of the year when very little else is blooming.  There are of course species which flower outwith their normal period, such as Galanthus reginae-olgae flowering for us in September.  It does not look right but it is most welcome none the less. 

      Narcissus is a predominantly Mediterranean located genus.  They too have autumn/winter-flowering species.  The numbers of Narcissus are vast.  Authorities don't agree about species numbers.  The Euro+ Med Plantbase ( Kew ) lists 52 species, while the R.H.S. registers 86 species, a host of subspecies and forms and 71 hybrids.  When the legions of cultivars, of daffodil especially, are added, they cover 220 column-inches in the Plant Finder!!  This makes it at times a taxonomic nightmare and the more we research the more the difficulty.  I suppose it depends if you lump or split!!

     Spain and Portugal have the greatest number of species, so it not surprising that several species extend to North Africa .  A few are replicated.  These are Narcissus bulbocodium and three of its subspecies; N. cantabricus, N. serotinus and N. viridiflorus.  Several others have evolved over time and are unique to North Africa.  They are Narcissus atlanticus, broussonetii, peroccidentalis, rupicola ssp watieri, tingitanus and our plant this month - Narcissus romieuxii.

     Narcissus romieuxii comes from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco where it grows from 1,500 to 2000m in cedar and oak forest.   It is a very variable species and several forms have been named.  The type specimen, in the University of Montpellier herbarium, was collected by Braun-Blanquet in 1921 at an altitude of 1750m near Azrou in the Middle Atlas Range.   Narcissus romieuxii belongs to the Bulbocodium Group and differs in having protruding yellow anthers.  The flowers are very variable in flower colour - from white to pale lemon-yellow and intense yellow  They are widely flared and subtended by a white spathe.  The four cultivars of Narcissus romieuxii offered in The Plant Finder are all selections from Jim Archibald's collection JCA 805.  They are 'Atlas Gold' with deep yellow flowers;  'Joy Bishop' has a pale-primrose, lobed corona, brown spathes and flowers mid November to February: 'Julie Jane' has side-facing, 1" wide flaring trumpets of soft yellow, with wavy margins; while 'Treble Chance' has pale cream, flared coronas.  They are all good plants but requiring alpine house culture.

     Narcissus romieuxii  ssp romieuxii covers a wide area and geographical forms have been named. The variety  rifanus comes from the Rif Mountain Range overlooking the Straits of Gibralter.  It has a longer flower stalk, a dark spathe and upward-facing, pale creamy-yellow flowers.  The slender petals are slightly longer than the corona and the yellow stamens less tightly bunched.  The variety mesatlanticus with broad creamy-white flowers and is very early flowering, otherwise has few distinguishable features from Narcissus romieuxii.  There is some speculation mesatlanticus is a hybrid with Narcissus cantabricus var. foliosus.

     Narcissus romieuxii ssp. albidus has pure white flowers but sometimes tinged with yellow.  The petals, which are up to 2.5mm wide at the base, extend beyond the widely flared corona. The stamens extend beyond the corona and are white.  The variety zaianicus from the Zaian mountains of the Middle Atlas, has creamy-white flowers whose petals are half as wide and are shorter than the corona.   The flowers stand clear of the reflexing needle-like leaves.

      While serious growers can identify the differences between all of these plants the Kew list (2010) accepts only three subspecies and the three varieties are reduced as synonyms, largely based on the DNA research by Zonneveld (2008).  She includes as the third subspecies the little known  Narcissus romieuxii ssp. jacquemoudii named by Fernandes Casas in 1986.  From the photograph I have seen it has more  N. bulbocodium features, with the stamens displayed within the corona.

Narcissus romieuxii is hardier than one would expect.  A standard bulb compost which is freely draining suits well, repotting every other year.  The bulbs must have complete baking during the summer months and for this reason are best grown in an alpine house where the flowers don't get  blemished by the rain splash.  It has proved to be relatively easy to grow.   It flowered in January last year but cold weather can delay flowering.


Like daffodils the bulbs build up over the years; some splitting more frequently than others.  Flowering will take about 3-4 years from seed and will give variation. 

Narcissus romieuxii, in one of its forms, is growing in the Alpine House.  Flowering may be delayed by the cold weather.    Grid H7 (click for location map)

Cullen, J. 1986.  Narcissus in European Garden Flora vol 1.   Narcissus.
Kew 2010. World Checklist of Selected Plant Families; The Euro+Med PlantBase Project. Narcissus.
Mabberley, D.J. 2008 . Mabberley's Plant Book. 3rd Edition.
RHS Plant Finder 2009-10.
RHS Registry of Narcissus 2008. Botanical names in the genus Narcissus.
Richards, J. 2010. in A.G.S. Plant of the Month - Narcissus romieuxii.
Young, I. 2009.  SRGC Bulb Log Diary 06 - Narcissus romieuxii.
Zonneveld, B.J.M. 2008 . The systematic value of Nuclear DNA content for all species of Narcissus. in Plant Syst. Evol. 275: 109-132.



As I write this note "Fact of the Day" on BBC Homepage has produced this warning:

All parts of the daffodil are poisonous. An extract of daffodil bulbs, when applied to open wounds, produces staggering, numbness of the whole nervous system, and paralysis of the heart. If you are trapped in a small space with a daffodil, it will give you a headache. There have been several cases of death by daffodil poisoning in which the bulbs were eaten in mistake for onions.