It’s OK to stare

The Paperwhite Narcissus garners attention indoors during the winter months.



Paperwhite Narcissus are the easiest bulbs to force indoors for fragrant winter flowers.

Russell Studebaker

One really can’t grow the Paperwhite Narcissus without recounting the tragic story of its namesake. 

In this Greek myth, a handsome youth became so obsessed with his own reflection in a pool that he could not leave, and thus, he perished. In the story, a flowering Narcissus plant sprang from where he died. 

A statue of Narcissus can be viewed in the Woodward Park Conservatory’s greenhouse in a pool gazing at his reflection.

From Narcissus, we have the words narcissism and narcissistic — obsession with self-love or excessive interest in one’s own appearance, comfort, abilities, etc. The flower has been seen as the symbol of unrequited love and vanity in the West. 

The Narcissus statue in the Woodward Park Conservatory greenhouse.

 

Narcissus have bulbs and are native to the Mediterranean region. The Paperwhite Narcissus requires no pre-cooling for flowering, and forcing it to flower is simple.

Purchase the bulbs in early autumn and plant them bulb-to-bulb in a shallow container without drainage holes. Use 3-4 inches of small gravel to anchor the bulb’s roots and plant the bulbs halfway into the media.

Because the foliage and flower scapes can grow 12-16 inches, I like to plant mine in a 15-inch-tall-by-6-inch-wide clear round glass vase. This gives the stems and flowers support; otherwise, they tend to fall.

After the bulbs are planted, add water to the bottom of the bulbs, then place the container in a cool, dark area for one to two weeks. 

Examine them for their root growth, which is easier in a clear glass container. When there is root growth, they can be brought out to a bright, sunny window or room to continue their growth and flowering.

These bulbs will not need any additional fertilizer — only water and light. Add water to the container as they grow, and bring the water level only up to the bottom of the bulbs. 

These Paperwhites will flower four to six weeks after planting and will continue to flower for three to four weeks. If you plant several containers some weeks apart, you can extend the flowering period.

Paperwhite’s flowers typically are single, white and in clusters. However, yellow cultivars also are available. All will fill a room with delicious fragrance for many weeks. After flowering, discard the bulbs because they do not rebloom in our hardiness zone.

It is easy to become infatuated with Paperwhites just as the Greek youth Narcissus became mortally entranced with his own reflection.

 

Where to find:

You can find Paperwhite Narcissus at most nurseries and garden centers in early autumn when spring flowering bulbs arrive. However, they always seem to sell out long before the other bulbs. A good mail order source is Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Gloucester, Virginia; 877-661-2852; www.brentandbeckybulbs.com. I have grown their Ariel cultivar. A yellow cultivar offered is Grand Soleil d’ Or.

 

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August 2019

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