Plant of the Week: Pheasant's Eye Daffodil

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Author: 
Andi Pettis
Photo by Phil Vachon The captivating pheasant’s eye daffodil, Narcissus poeticus, is the flower that the Greeks saw fit to both honor beauty and condemn vanity. Photo by Phil Vachon

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Narcissus poeticus is also known as pheasant’s eye daffodil for the red ring that circles the shallow center cup of the flower, resembling a pheasant’s eye. The story of the common name of this spring ephemeral is rather pedestrian, though, compared to the Latin. The diminutive yet captivating Narcissus poeticus is the narcissus – the narcissus of classic literature and lore. It is the poet’s daffodil.

Narcissus poeticus was first described in writing by Theophrastus, who was a contemporary of Aristotle and sometimes known as the "father of botany." Virgil wrote about N. poeticus in the fifth Eclogue, and it is mentioned in the medieval allegory Roman de la Rose. In Greek myth, Persephone and her friends were gathering Narcissus poeticus when Hades abducted her into the underworld. In one version of the Narcissus story, the goddess Nemesis both punishes the vain young man for his cruelty and recognizes his beauty by turning him into a flower that historians associate with our pheasant’s eye daffodil.

EnlargeMichelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Narcissus at the Source, oil on canvas, 1597-99 (Palazzo Barberini)

Native to Central and Southern Europe, N. poeticus has for centuries been cultivated for its essential oil, used to this day in many fine perfume formulas. Hardy and easy to grow, the rich fragrance and storied loveliness of this daffodil make it a favorite heirloom variety in gardens, and it has escaped cultivation and naturalized in much of the temperate, coastal United States.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
You can see Narcissus poeticus, the flower that the Greeks saw fit to both honor beauty and condemn vanity, on the High Line between West 16th and 17th Streets and between West 27th and 30th Streets.

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Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects – become a member of Friends of the High Line today!