To me they are Narcissus but to many they are daffodils, yet in essence, they are the same plant.
When they start to bloom, some as early as February, these cheery, bobbing harbingers of spring lift your spirits when many plants in the garden have yet to dare to open either flower or leaf.
Narcissus bulbs are like bears: they go dormant in winter; they need several weeks or months of cold temperatures to prepare them for regrowth. But when spring sunlight starts to warm the soil around them, they emerge from their winter sleep and erupt from the ground in a frenzy of flowering.. They grow just about anywhere, except really shady and really dry and are as hardy a flower as you are likely to get.
Wild Narcissus are found in a variety of habitats from sea level to subalpine meadows, from woodlands to dry, rocky slopes in Europe and North Africa with the greatest variety found in Spain but they can also be found in Portugal, western France and Italy, in Morocco and many other European countries.
It is thought that the Narcissus bulbs were brought to Britain by the Romans and then on into Ireland. For centuries the wild forms were all that were known and grown and in the 19th century the classification of the many species was attempted. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus originally identified six species of Narcissus flower in his work, Species Plantarum,, in 1753 but dozens more species and sub-species have since been acknowledged. Due to varying expert opinions on what qualifies as a ‘species or sub-species’, there is no universal consensus as to precisely how many exist.
Daffodils are arguably the most recognizable flower in the Narcissus genus. though the name daffodil only dates back to around the 1500s. Before this, these flowers were called “Affodyle”, which means “that which comes early” in old English.. It is said that all daffodils are Narcissus, but not all Narcissus are daffodils and others that are now recognised as distinct species are:-
Although the name daffodil is often applied only to the larger trumpet-flowered cultivars, with the short-cupped and multi-headed cultivars referred to as narcissus, breeders and other enthusiasts refer to all kinds as daffodils. Due to their popularity as reliable garden plants, thousands of cultivars have been bred and are continuing to be bred, to provide scent, colour, size and long flowering.
Narcissus are members of the Amaryllis family with a central trumpet-shaped corona surrounded by six petals with the flowers atop a single stem,
surrounded by flat leaves that grow from the plant’s base. Most Narcissus are yellow or white in colour, though the strength of the yellow varies from rich bright yellow to subtle creamy yellow or even tinged with a greenish hue. Some have a trumpet that is tinged with orange or pink, even red is seen in some garden varieties and some have the trumpet and petals of differing colours.
The popularity of Narcissus seems to increase as people find they can be planted, in large swathes to naturalise in grass and woodland edges but the smaller forms can be used in pots and raised beds to bring the spring right up to the house. The small amount of time, effort and money that is spent on planting and growing them will be repaid in spades; the bulbs you plant in the autumn will flower each spring for many years to come, as will their many offspring as the continue to multiple.
Narcissus are of one the flowers for a March Birthday; yellow narcissus symbolise positive energy, happiness, good fortune and friendship whereas white narcissus represent; creativity, inspiration, awareness and inner reflection but the colour white is also widely associated with peace, purity and innocence.
A daffodil bouquet is sent or presented to celebrate a 10th wedding anniversary.
The Isles of Scilly grow narcissus commercially on four of the five inhabited islands, keeping up the long-held island tradition of producing high quality and beautifully scented narcissus for which they are famous. They are a group of about 200 small islands about 45km off Land's End and form a part of the historic county of Cornwall. A single daffodil is paid each year as the rent for the Isles of Scilly to the Duchy of Cornwall.
There comes a day when you venture outside and notice the, no longer subtle, changes: it's as if birds have turned up the volume when they sing.
No, it's not your imagination, the birdsong is definitely louder. The days are longer, the air is warmer and the males of the species' thoughts turn to...... Well, it is spring after all.
Although birds make sounds throughout the year, alarm calls and quiet chirps and cheeps, it is in the springtime that the males ramp up the volume. Singing is the bird equivalent of showing off, a proclamation of strength and masculinity and this only gets louder in springtime and as migrating birds return to Ireland to breed..
Even though we, as humans, find birdsong tuneful and uplifting, to birds it is a shouting match. They know they need to get their act together and proclaim loudly if they want to defend a territory, find a partner, build a nest and bring a new generation of baby birds into the world.
Birds need to mate, nest and breed in order to pass on their genes to another generation of sparrows or wrens or hawks and singing, for the male, is part of the repertoire to prove his potential to a female. Singing is an incredibly energetic activity, particularly for small birds. It takes a lot of energy to sing and it proves to any potential female and rival males that this particular male is strong and healthy and will provide for their partner. If a bird can sing loudly and for a long time whilst still maintaining a healthy weight (level of fat), then it shows that they are a fit and strong individual and therefore a good partner for a female to choose
They say that the early bird catches the worm but those early risers are also likely to get the first choice of mate and they are the first birds we hear each morning, the blackbird, the robin and the wren, even individual songs can be discerned and, if we can so, can a prospective female.
Unlike the sounds they make all year, songs are usually very complicated and different species of birds have developed different songs. This enables them to sing at the same time without confusing each other. Once other birds wake up and begin to sing it is more difficult to tell the songs apart and they become lost in the cacophony of the dawn chorus. Since the stakes are high, however, no bird gives up until they run out of energy and have to find some much needed food to replace what the singing has lost..
One theory, as to why birds start singing so early, is that in the early morning, the light levels are too low to do much foraging as many insects are not yet up and about, so it's a great time to sing instead. The lower morning air temperatures and less active air currents allow sounds to carry further without as much interference and his beautiful song may also travel further when there is less ambient noise such as traffic to stifle the sound. The song is not as likely to be drowned out, giving the strong, early singers an advantage because their song will be easier to hear.
Spring is the ideal time to attract a mate. It means that by the time their offspring have hatched, the weather will be warmer and there will be plenty of insect food to sustain the whole family.
Photo credits: Robin - Wildedges: Song Thrush - Tony Philp: Blackbird - Wikimedia: Wren - Paul Miguel
The days are lengthening and the temperatures are gradually beginning to rise. The plants in the garden and the hedgerow are enjoying the return of the spring as they open their bright flowers to the day. The first few flowers are a welcome sight, snowdrops which grow so readily wherever they are planted, celandine and primroses brighten the woodlands, lane-ways and stream-sides across the breadth of the island and the swelling and opening of catkins begin on the hazel; pendant lamb-tails that flutter in the breeze.
Snowdrops - Galanthus, are now well on their way to being spent, the nodding heads of this dainty flower bloom when the darkest days of winter have just passed, impervious to the ice and bitter chill, when life in the roots beneath the frozen earth; spring forth.
The humble Snowdrop has its origins in the mountainous alpine regions of Southern Europe, where their world is much colder and winters can be much harsher. It is thought that snowdrops had been brought by monks to the UK and then to Ireland, sometime in the sixteenth century. Now they are to be found in many country estates, favouring shady areas such as woodlands, banks, hedgerow bases and can be seen carpeting many a churchyard, the reason, perhaps, for some of the darker lore that surrounds snowdrops.
In contrast, in Irish folklore, the flower’s associations with the Pagan ideals of health and wellbeing was as a bringer of hope and purity, the rich green coloured stem and the nodding white flowers which symbolised the light of the winter sun as it began to grow stronger each day.
Primroses - Primula vulgaris, the welcome sight of these pale yellow flowers as they wreathe the shady banks, damp woods and along the roadsides and streamsides of rural Ireland. In ancient times, these charming flowers were considered a symbol of safety and protection and thought to hold the keys to heaven, so were considered to be sacred by the Celtic people. Widely distributed in many lowland areas it is essentially a plant of woodlands and hedgerows though it can occur abundantly in grasslands and other communities such as heaths, in northern and western Ireland, it may also be found in open and even exposed habitats such as cliff edges. Its distribution is linked with soil moisture and atmospheric humidity.
Primroses are a native perennial forming clusters of leaves, from the centre of which erupt the flowers from March to May and the flowers come in two distinct forms, pin and thrum; avoiding self-pollination helps to keep the primrose gene pool healthy. Intriguingly, primroses are pollinated by wild bees and bumblebees with the seeds distributed by ants. The seeds come with a fleshy elaiosome bump on the surface of the seed that is rich in proteins and designed to attract ants. The ants pick up the seeds and carry them away to their nests, where the elaiosome is eaten (often by the larvae) and the seed is discarded – unharmed outside their nest.
Celandines - Fiscaria verna, a ground hugging native perennial of the buttercup family and found throughout Ireland. These welcome flowers are among the first to show their colours in spring, studding fields, banks of streams and rivers, damp verges and shadier places with brilliant yellow stars. Celandines respond to the daylight, opening their flowers as the sun rises and closing at dusk and like true sun-worshipers, they will also close up before rain is due, hiding their beauty until the sun touches them once again. Because of this, It was once thought that you could use lesser celandine to predict the weather.
The spreading clumps of heart shaped leaves emerge from the soil before the golden flowers, are held aloft on swaying stems. As one of the first flowers to appear after winter, they provide an important nectar source for queen bumblebees and other pollinators emerging from hibernation.
Hazel - Corylus avellana, the tree at the World's End, it is often considered the Irish tree of knowledge, according to Celtic mythology and was said to bestow wisdom.
A native large shrub or small tree of spreading, bushy habit with almost round leaves with a serrated edge. Most noticeable for the long, yellow male catkins that can appear in early February; although the tiny, red-styled female flowers which appear at the same time are often missed. They must be pollinated by wind-blown pollen from another hazel tree. They are found in woodland and hedgerows across the country and have been a staple of hunter-gatherers since ancient times. This nutrient dense nut is one of Ireland's most productive and sustainable sources of protein as squirrels know only too well, caching them in autumn for critical nutrition when needed.
The food we supply in our bird feeders and on our bird tables may be the difference between life and death
A crisp, cold wintery morning, the garden fills with birdsong as they trill out the dawn and yet, despite all this tunefulness, winter has a massive impact on the daily lives of garden birds.
Winter days are short and the nights interminably long, enforcing an unpleasant equation on each waking period; a small bird must find enough food to lay down fat reserves for the night to come, because if it doesn't, it may starve to death during the hours of darkness. So, to survive, the days are one long feeding binge, with little time for anything else, literally, eating just to survive.
The statistics of this dedication to finding food is startling; one of our tiniest birds, the goldcrest, must feed from dawn to dusk virtually without stopping, even for a moment as a disturbance, lasting 30 minutes on a very cold day, could potentially prove fatal in the long and cruel winter night ahead. Each of our tit species, core visitors to both urban and rural garden feeders, must devote eight out of every ten minutes to finding calorie rich food.
As the temperatures fall and the cold spell starts to bite, life becomes a little harder for our wild birds. For most birds, food supplies become greatly reduced in winter just when more food is required as fuel for keeping them warm. Many of them change their eating habits; ones that usually eat insects may start to eat berries to supplement their diet as the insect prey becomes more scarce. Unfortunately, by this stage, many of the hedgerow berries may have already been eaten and the search is on for another food source. They will start to look for a reliable source of protein to supplement any food they can find in the garden and beyond and this is where the humble, well stocked garden tables and feeders come into the own.
Feeding birds in the garden is a popular activity, in fact, almost half of the adults in the country feed birds in their garden in some form or other. The winter is a time they may need that extra bit of help and if you choose to feed them, they will reward you with hours of enjoyment from the comfort of your cosy home..
It is recommended that once you make the decision to feed the birds in your garden for the winter it is important to remember that you must continue to do so. The birds will come to rely on food being available; they will use up valuable energy, flying to your garden in order to feed, and lose time if the feeders are empty.
Depending on the main species you want to attract will determine what feeders you use and what you put out. There is such a wide range of foods available to buy and certain foods that you can also use from your larder.
Though most people will tell me they want only little songbirds and not crows or magpies and the like, my response is, those birds are still wildlife, they need to eat too and I have learnt the hard and expensive way that many crow-proof feeders don't work. I once bought a crow-proof fat ball feeder and they had it open and completely empty in 20 minutes. I don't begrudge them their meal, they work hard at food puzzles, something that small birds are not quite so well known for.
I would always choose to put out whole peanuts, they are probably the most widely bought bird food and it often dispensed all year round. Peanuts have high protein content and fat levels and are used as an ingredient in many suet products. They are really popular with tits, greenfinches, chaffinches, sparrows and siskins. They should always be offered in a specific peanut feeder if whole, this ensures that the birds get small pieces and not the whole nut. On birdtables, grated or crushed peanuts may be scattered and are willingly taken by robins, dunnocks, sometimes even wrens.
Seed mixes are another popular food item and come in a bewildering range. Always buy the best mixture you can, this should contain flaked and kibbled maize, sunflower seeds and hearts, kibbled peanuts, millet and pinhead oatmeal. Wheat and barley is often included in cheaper mixes as bulk but you may find they will be discarded by the small birds in favour of the tastier treats on offer in the mixtures.
A recent introduction to the range was mixtures that have already been de-hulled and theoretically leaving you with less mess to clean up. These mixes may also include more unusual seeds such as hemp, linseed and chicory. There is one seed you should include if you want to encourage goldfinches to your garden and that is Nyjer seed. A tiny glossy black seed, rich in oil, and is often regarded as having played a significant role in increasing the population numbers of goldfinches and other declining species in recent years.
Suet products in all their variety are great favourites with wild birds, they are highly nutritious and may contain seeds, berries, nuts and mealworms and will attract a range of birds depending on the choice. All of the acrobatic birds such as tits, green finches and to some extent goldfinches will allow great views as they hang precariously from feeders, coconut shells and the suet logs.
If you get suet balls that come wrapped individually in plastic mesh bags, these must be removed and the suet ball then put into a feeder; this ensures no harm is caused to the birds which can get their delicate legs caught in the mesh. Half coconuts are a great attraction and once empty they can either be refilled or I use mine to put small amounts of seed, mealworms or suet pellets in. I also installed a peanut butter feeder which has small jars of hard peanut butter often mixed with nuts, insects or berries in a small frame, loved by the tit species and the larger birds have difficulty accessing it.
There are many items you would probably call scraps that can be put on tables such, as cooked pasta, grated cheese, stale cake, fruit that is going over such as apples, pears, grapes, raisins and dates. Cooked potato and brown rice (no salt), porridge and day old bread and toast but this should always be slightly moistened first.
It is equally important for birds to have a constant supply of fresh water, something that can be very hard to find in the depths of winter when ponds and puddles are frozen over. As well as for drinking, fresh water is required for bathing, this ensures that their feathers are kept clean, which will insulate them more effectively against the cold
Birds are warm blooded; they need to maintain their body temperature within a certain range even when the temperatures around them change. They often give the impression of being well fed because they look fat but this illusion is to do with winter feathers. On cold, wintry days, most birds will fluff up to trap air between their feathers, creating air pockets that form a natural layer of insulation, similar to a duvet, to help keep them warm.
Birds will sleep with their bills under their wings so they breathe in warmer air and they are also known to grow twice as many feathers to increase the insulation factor. Research has shown that some birds go into a nocturnal torpor (a deeper sleep where the body temperature, heart rate and breathing is reduced) resulting in a controlled hypothermia which can save the birds up to 20% of their energy. This is in conjunction with huddling together in larger numbers, in sheltered locations, even nest-boxes, for the night, forgetting territorial disputes in order to seek warmth for the night.
One other trick they have is to shiver. Constant shivering is used as a short term adjustment to the cold; it is a way to increase heat production while at rest, a process that is called thermogenesis. Shivering converts muscular energy into heat in the short term but it also burns a lot of calories and those calories must be quickly replaced. The main way to replace this lost energy is with food so, as soon as they wake in the morning, the hunt is on to replace the energy lost during the night. This is where a reliable source of food comes in; the food that we provide for wild birds does not replace their hunt for food in the bushes, leaf litter and trees in the garden but it does give them a sort of security blanket..
Photo credits: Robin - Chris Child: Goldcrest - eBird: Fieldfare SW Farmer: Coal Tit - Fiona McAllister: Sparrows - Alexander Prechtl: Blue Tit - Pinterest: Mixed wildbirds - Paul Dinning: Blue Tit - B Burke: Long-tailed Tit - Pinterest
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