Narcissus Flowers: Meanings, Symbolism, and Myths

Narcissus flowers have ancient symbolic meanings dating back to Greek Mythological tales. In modern times, these famous spring bloomers are most commonly associated with good luck and prosperity. Join me as I explore the rich history, meaning, and cultural significance of Narcissus in the language of flowers.

Ultimate Guide to Narcissus Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Etymology

The daffodil flower is arguably the most recognizable flower in the Narcissus genus, containing a wide range of species. The botanical name “daffodil” only dates back to the 1500s, prior to which time these flowers were called “Affodyle”, which means “that which comes early” in old English. The full Latin name for the common wild daffodil is Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

Narcissus Flowers in Welsh Folklore

In British culture, wild daffodils are also known as “Lent Lilies” as they typically bloom shortly after Ash Wednesday and die off around Easter. Worldwide, Christian culture also considers the narcissus flower meaning to have religious significance, as it is said the very first flower bloomed to comfort Jesus on the night of The Last Supper.

Daffodils are the national flower of Wales and are often featured on royal emblems alongside the English Tudor rose, the Scottish thistle, and the Irish shamrock. According to Welsh folklore, the person who spots the first daffodil bloom of spring will be blessed with wealth and good fortune for the following year.

Chinese Folklore

Narcissus flowers are also featured in Chinese folklore, where it is said that a daffodil blooming at home on the New Year brings good luck to the household.

The flower is often associated with the Chinese Spring Festival, symbolizing good luck, prosperity, and good fortune for the new year. The flower’s introduction to China dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when it was brought from Italy and became widespread, especially in the southern parts of China.

Moreover, in Chinese folklore, the Narcissus is said to be the embodiment of Emperor Yao’s two daughters, E Huang and Nv Ying. Zhu Xi, a prominent Confucian scholar from the Song Dynasty, described the Narcissus as resembling a fairy with yellow hats and green sleeves.

Narcissus Flowers in Ancient Greek Mythology

Ancient Greek mythology tells how Narcissus flowers came into existence in ancient times. According to the story, Narcissus was the beautiful yet vain son of the nymph Liriope and Cephissus, God of the River.

The myth tells that Narcissus was wandering in the woods when the mountain nymph Echo became captivated by his good looks and fell in love with him. Breaking the nymph’s heart by failing to return her affections, the young man cursed her to roam the woods until all that remained was the sound of her voice.

Narcissus was punished by the Goddess Nemesis, who lured him to a stream where he became transfixed by his own reflection in the water. Unable to tear himself away, Narcissus grew weary, fell into the stream, and drowned.

Daffodils are said to grow in abundance on riverbanks and streams, as this is where Narcissus fell. The myth also suggests that the curved stem and dipped blossom of the daffodil represents Narcissus himself, mesmerized by his image in the water.

An ancient Greek myth about Hades also mentions Narcissus flowers. According to this story, Zeus’s daughter Persephone was captured by the god of the underworld while in the Elysian Fields picking daffodils. It is possibly a result of this myth that daffodils are commonly associated with death and the afterlife, frequently featuring in funeral wreaths and planted around graves to this day.

Though the Ancient Greek stories of Narcissus and Persephone have undeniably sinister undertones, daffodils and other species of Narcissi are rich with positive symbolism. As one of the first flowers to appear in early spring, the daffodil has come to be known as a symbol of new life, renewal, and new beginnings.

Narcissus Flower Colors and Their Meanings

Most species of Narcissus flower are yellow, white, or a combination of the two in different hues. Many people choose to grow daffodils or offer them as gifts due to the special meaning associated with their distinctive, vibrant bloom.

For instance, it is thought that yellow narcissus flowers symbolize positive energy, happiness, a new beginning, and friendship, which is perhaps why daffodils are a popular gift for friends and coworkers but would not necessarily be considered appropriate for a lover or spouse.

White is widely associated with peace, purity, innocence, and spirituality, often linked with the Virgin Mary. This symbolic meaning could explain why white flowers are often featured at weddings and religious events. The prevalence of white Narcissus perhaps lends additional weight to the idea that they have religious significance, especially with Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus.

In the Victorian language of flowers, the Narcissus held a range of meanings, embodying themes of self-reflection, renewal, and love. The Victorian interpretation also included themes of unrequited love, renewal, good luck, and new life. Depending on its color, the Narcissus could signify sympathy, ambition, self-esteem, or even platonic love.

March Birth Month Flowers

The tradition of March birth flowers is thought to have originated in ancient Rome, where flowers were given as gifts to celebrate birthdays and other special events. Each month was associated with a particular flower, believed to hold specific characteristics or powers that would be imparted to people born in that month.

Daffodils are one of the birth flowers for March. These trumpet-like flowers signify warmer and brighter days are just around the corner, especially with their cheerful and bright yellow petals. Because of this, daffodils are often associated with rebirth and new beginnings. 

10th Wedding Anniversary Flowers

Daffodils are also the official flower for 10th wedding anniversaries. These lovely flowers represent all the memories that the first decade of marriage brings to a couple. 

Gifting Narcissus Flowers

The Narcissus flower’s positive symbolism makes it an excellent choice of gift for any occasion, especially when the person gifting the stunning bouquet intends to send wishes of happiness and good fortune.

Anybody choosing to send daffodils as a gift should always take care to send them in a bunch, as a single daffodil is considered an omen of bad fortune. Despite this, and rather interestingly, Prince Charles of England is traditionally paid a single daffodil each year as rent for the Island of Scilly.

Narcissus Flowers in Art and Literature

The meaning of the narcissus flower is extensively addressed in the arts, and it is one of the most culturally celebrated flowers, especially in British literature.

Perhaps the most famous example of this would be the William Wordsworth poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, in which the poet pays tribute to “a host of golden daffodils”.

Narcissus flowers are also a common feature in visual art throughout history. Notable paintings include Vincent van Gogh’s Bowl with Daffodils, and Salvador Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus, a famous surrealist representation of the Greek mythological character Narcissus’ demise.

However, daffodils and other species of Narcissus flower were celebrated in visual art long before the great artists of the past few centuries. One of the earliest known instances of art featuring Narcissus flowers is a mural discovered on the excavated wall of a building in Pompeii, which had been buried and preserved in volcanic ash.

Wrap Up

Narcissus flowers are a family of plants that have taken pride of place in human culture for many thousands of years. Besides their obvious aesthetic appeal, Narcissi benefit from hardy constitutions that allow them to grow and flourish in most environments. As such, daffodils and other Narcissus flower species make the perfect addition to any garden, for novice and experienced growers alike.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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