Daffodils, jonquils, and other types of narcissus are the harbingers of spring, so you may be tempted to bring them indoors to brighten a room. Go ahead and put them in a vase! However, it’s not just an urban legend that daffodils poison other flowers. Take a look at the chemistry involved and learn how to safely use daffodils with other flowers (yes, it’s possible).
Understand Daffodil Poison
Daffodils and their kin are poisonous to people and animals, not just to other plants and cut flowers. All members of the Narcissus family contain the alkaloid poison lycorine. The toxin is concentrated in the plant’s bulb, but it’s also found in the leaves and stems. Ingesting parts of the plant can tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and even death! Picking the flowers can cause a form of dermatitis called “daffodil itch,” resulting from absorption of lycorine and other alkaloids, calcium oxalate, and chelidonic acid. Even smelling daffodils can cause headaches and vomiting in pets and sensitive people.
The toxic properties of daffodils help protect them from being eaten by animals or infected by fungi and molds, but some compounds also affect other plants. Daffodils and jonquils may be planted around a garden to protect it from rodents and deer, but you need to avoid planting too close to roses, cabbage, or rice because chemicals released by Narcissus can stunt the growth of these plants.
Daffodils Poison Cut Flowers
Tulips and roses, in particular, are sensitive to the alkaloids released by daffodils. These flowers really are poisoned by Narcissus species. However, most flowers die an early death due to the mucilage released by cut daffodil stems. The problem has nothing to do with toxicity. The slimy mucilage blocks the uptake of water by the stems of cut flowers, while the sugars and polysaccharides hasten the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mold.
How to Safely Mix Daffodils With Other Flowers
What’s that you say? You’ve seen beautiful bouquets mixing daffodils, narcissus, or jonquils with other flowers. Yes, it’s possible to put these flowers in a bouquet, but there’s a trick to it!
First, some bouquets contain flowers that either aren’t affect by Narcissus toxins or even thrive on it. You can safely combine daffodils, jonquils, narcissus, snowdrops, amaryllis, and flowering allium. Irises actually last longer in a vase with daffodils, due to the presence of the alkaloid narciclasine.
If you want to combine daffodils with other flowers, you need to pre-condition them. Cut the daffodils, trim them to the desired length, and soak them in clean water for at least an hour before adding them to a mixed bouquet. Soaking dilutes alkaloids and dissolves excess mucilage. Do not trim the daffodil stems after soaking or you’ll release more mucilage.
Don’t add “flower food” or “flower preservative” to any Narcissus bouquet because (a) the daffodils don’t need it and may even be harmed by it and (b) daffodils release sugars that can nourish the other flowers.
While you shouldn’t add traditional flower food, there are other compounds that may slow wilting. Cobalt chloride (found in some color-change silica gel packets) can help protect roses from having their stems blocked by daffodil compounds. Adding sodium hypochlorite (i.e., dilute chlorine bleach) or 8-hydroxyquinoline (HQC) can slow wilting of most bouquets, whether they contain daffodils or not. So, feel free to add a few drops of bleach to fresh water to protect your flowers.
- Bastida, Jaume; Lavilla, Rodolfo; Viladomat, Francesc (2006). “Chemical and biological aspects of “Narcissus” alkaloids”. In Cordell, G. A. The Alkaloids: Chemistry and Biology Vol. 63 (PDF). Amsterdam: Elsevier Inc. pp. 87–179.
- Martin, S.F. (1987). “3: The Amaryllidaceae Alkaloids”. In Brossi, Arnold. The Alkaloids (vol. 301). Academic Press. pp. 251–356.