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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

'A Host of Golden Daffodils' : A Message from England

We are so lucky to live in a country with glorious daffodils, as Spring returns once more. Where I live on England's South Coast there have been daffodils everywhere over the last few weeks. So pleased to see them, even if some days are still cold, because they carry the promise that Spring and Summer can't be far away.

'I wander'd lonely as a cloud', wrote William Wordsworth in 1804

'That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils.'

Botanically, the vast number of different varieties are much altered - in both colour and size, from the wild daffodils. My Welsh-Borders born grandma came from the area of Britain perhaps most famous for its genuine wild daffodils - around the Gloucestershire villages of Newent and Dymock. Of course, wild daffodils grow elsewhere too, notably Tenby in South Wales which has a specific sub type of wild daffodil, the so-called Tenby Daffodil. And, as we all know the daffodil is the national symbol of Wales.

The wild variety suffered a decline in the 19th century for reasons only guessed at - increased picking, agricultural improvement and more. Today the majority of daffodils we see growing in wild places are merely escaped cultivated ones, or specially planted cultivated varieties.

With strains of Rule Britannia in the background, I am pleased to inform you that since commercial growing in glasshouses in the 1930s Britain has become the major world producer of the flower.

The first record I can discover in my adopted county of Sussex for wild daffodils comes from the village of Cowfold in 1805, although now believed to have been an introduction. The wild daffodil itself is not a British native, but rather was introduced, like so much else, by The Romans. However, some historical botanists believe it may have its origins earlier than that. The jury is out.

Commercial growing began in The Scilly Isles, warmed by The Gulf Stream, in the 19th century. The story goes that a potato farmer realised there was a market for the flower that grew wild on his farm. Once the railway connection was in place between Penzance and London, he had found a marketing niche, and other growers quickly followed.

Every part of a daffodil is poisonous, unlike the bulbs of the Dutch tulip which some of the Dutch were forced to eat during the German Occupation of The Second World War. However, scientists have now discovered a chemical within the flower that has been found to be effective in the treatment of Alzheimer's.

Folk Traditions

There are many local names in England for the flower, including

Down Dilly in Somerset

Goose Flops in Devon

Nebbits in Norfolk and

Lent in Cornwall

I well remember in 1950s Bristol hearing the use of the Somerset word, Daffydilly.

One folktale says that wild daffodils were associated with medieval monastic settlements. I don't know whether such a belief has truth to it, and if so why.

In World War Two, the British began calling Australian troops 'daffodils' because of their poor performance in the defence of Singapore - 'beautiful to look at, but yellow through and through!'.

As Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles is paid one daffodil for the rent of certain lands of the Duchy on The Isles of Scilly.

History is absolutely everywhere and doesn't always have to be about battles and politics.

Hoorah for the humble daffodil

That gives so much pleasure

And promises that Spring and Summer are just around the corner

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