The French daffodil is a winter-flowering plant that grows in abandoned fields, steppe habitat and on hillsides.
The French daffodil, known in Maltese as narċis, is relatively common locally. It sometimes grows in small clumps, consisting of a few plants but in some places it grows in dense patches that can cover several square metres.It is native to all the countries around the Mediterranean and in southern France, grown commercially for the production of an essential oil which is used in perfumes.
The beautiful plant is much appreciated by gardeners in countries where it is not indigenous. Up to a few decades ago, it was often cut in large numbers and sold by children and adults along country roads, especially during weekends. This practice was preventing the plants from producing enough seeds to maintain strong populations and if this activity had continued, the French daffodil might have become a rare and endangered species. The plant did not disappear completely, despite the annual onslaught, because it grows from a bulb which can survive for several years.
Other species which were also collected in large numbers have nearly disappeared. One such plant is the pheasant’s eye, which relies solely on seeds for propagation.
The French daffodil belongs to the lily family. As with other members of this family, the bulbs and other parts of this species are very poisonous. The poison protects it from herbivores such as rabbits.
In some countries the French daffodil is used as a cure for several medical conditions including abscesses, boils and other skin conditions. It is also a powerful narcotic and is able to slow down or stop the heartbeat. In fact, the name of this species is derived from narkao (to benumb) from which we also get the word narcotic.
This article was published in The Times on 30 January 2013.