The History of the Welsh Daffodil

The daffodil has been a recognised symbol for Wales for generations. It can be seen proudly worn on the shirts of the county’s rugby teams, pinned to the lapels of Welsh representatives and fondly seen growing wild in hedge rows. The bright yellow colouring brings a sense of joy to all and the symbolism is deeply rooted in British and Welsh history.

The daffodil became the national flower of Wales in the 19th century. They’ve been considered the most picturesque flora to ever exist and in our more recent culture, have had a greater relation to Wales than the leek. They were first advocated to be a symbol by David Lloyd George. The only prime minister to be Welsh and speak English as a second language. He reigned from 1916 to 1922 and it was reported that he insisted the flower be used for the investiture of the future Edward VIII. 

We most commonly see the daffodil being proudly worn on St David’s Day (Dewi Sant) the 1st of March. The celebration is of David who founded the largest monastery in West Wales in the sixth century, now known as St David’s Cathedral. The beginning of March is a significant time as daffodil season is a sign of brighter weather to come and reliably occurs every year. 

The authenticity of the daffodil (Narcissus Pseudonarcissus) has been questioned throughout its history as to whether they are truly British or if they were introduced at some point. With over 50 species and 10 thousand varieties, the bulbs continue to grow wildly throughout the UK but are also native to Western Europe. Lent Lily, Bell Rose and Daffadowndilly are all commonly used names for the daffodil. The Tenbury has an all yellow flower and is commonly found in South Wales but the most identifiable daffodil native to the UK has six yellow petals in tear drop shapes, a vibrant yellow trumpet and a thin stem. During the 19th century there was a rapid decline due to habitat loss and now daffodils are considered rare in some areas of the UK. 

In 1917, after bulbs remained in the ground for too long, the daffodil plague came. Wiping out fields that were grown for sale. William Trevellick in 1875, was the first to profit from daffodil crops. As a potato farmer on the Isles of Scilly he found that they would flower in January, much earlier than anywhere else. Using the freight train from Penzance to London he was able to get fresh cut flowers to the city within 48 hours. The industry was born, farms were built to cultivate daffodils weeks before they flowered on the mainland. During the war when the Dig For Victory campaign began from 1939 to 1945, land was prioritised for food and daffodil bulbs were discarded in hedges. This is why we find daffodils growing wildly on verges and in hedgerows today. 

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The origin of the daffodil is also speculated about. Romans were believed to have brought the bulbs to the British Isles because they thought the sap had healing powers. Unfortunately the crystals formed by the sap actually irritate skin, but the oil has been used as an aphrodisiac, a cure for baldness and for relaxing.

One of the first recorded celebrations of the daffodil was in the 17th century by William Shakespeare in The Winter’s Tale. From this popularity girls would sell daffodils on the streets of London. 

“Daffodils come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty”

The ancient greek legend of Narcissus the hunter underpins the daffodil’s beauty. In variations of this tale when he saw his reflection in a pool of water, he was so enthralled he could not move. He realised that he could only love himself and this burning passion caused him to melt away. In his place was left the beautiful flower with a long stem that allowed it to bend and see it’s reflection. In another version the nymph, Echo, fell deeply in love with him and Narcissus was unable to reciprocate for being so infatuated with himself. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, punished him as she continued to see him push people away by luring him to the pool where he was unable to move for his reflection. 

The symbolism of the daffodil stems from nature's optimism of the heralding spring. The trumpets are symbolic of announcing festivities, celebrating simplicity cheerfully and happily. With new beginnings it’s almost seen as a rebirth with renewed energy and inspiration. The daffodil is seen as a positive sign for the end of winter and the cold, fueling the feeling of hope. Other countries use the daffodil in this way too. The American Cancer Association appropriated it for positivity and hope, just like Marie Curie and the Great Daffodil Appeal. 

It's considered lucky to see the first daffodils of spring and for those who do, they are showered with blessings throughout the year. For fortune and prosperity the Chinese celebrate the daffodil during Chinese New Year. Often gifted for those who have birthdays in March but also on a couple's 10th wedding anniversary to continue their love, luck and happiness. 

White petals are seen as peaceful and forgiving whilst yellow are considered auspicious, full ofenergy and positivity. It’s clear that although the origin of the daffodil is unknown, the symbolismmakes it an icon that everyone would be proud to represent. The leek will forever remain thenational emblem, but perfectly paired with the vibrance of the daffodil.

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