Sunday, 19 November 2006

The humble daffodil: proper Welsh emblem or a cheap bit of tat

The daffodil, it seems, originated in Portugal, Spain and the southern coast of France, not in Wales. But the daffodil is cheap and cheerful and only lasts for a couple of weeks, which makes it eminently suitable as our national emblem.

The name for daffodil in Welsh (cenhinen Bedr) translates as Peter's Leek. The word for leek is ‘cenhinen’. This allows plenty of scope for conjecture and confusion. I might as well add to it.

Daffodils are also known as Lent Lilies, Easter Lilies, Daffys, Narcissus and by the Latin name Narcissus Pseudonarcissus. The Greek Theophrastus first wrote about narcissi around 300BC in his Enquiry into Plants. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water and was turned into a flower by the gods.

Medieval Arabs apparently used the juice of wild daffodils as a cure for baldness. I have no idea if it works. It is said that Roman soldiers carried daffodils with them to eat if they should be mortally wounded in battle, in order to hasten their journey to the underworld.

Mohammed wrote: "He that has two cakes of bread, let him sell one of them for some flowers of the Narcissus, for bread is food for the body, but Narcissus is food of the soul."

Mercifully, the Welsh are only encouraged to wear daffodils in their buttonholes on 1st March of year, and the kind of Welshmen who possess buttonholes do actually wear them. But why?

The daffodil became a popular Welsh symbol in the 19th century. Lloyd George, no doubt feeling that leeks were a bit dull and unattractive, used the daffodil to symbolise Wales at the 1911 Investiture of Edward Windsor, the soon-to-be Nazi sympathiser who, having been crowned Edward VIII of England, got sacked for marrying an American divorcee.

I have no idea why you need a plant as a symbol for a country. Is it any wonder some nationalists prefer the rather more powerful and evocative symbol of the white eagle of Snowdonia?

What else do you need to know? There are about 50 species of daffodils, and many thousands of named cultivars and hybrids of garden origin. The Royal Horticultural Society International Daffodil Register lists more than 26,400 named daffodils. They're common as muck!

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