How do you spot a real Welsh daffodil?
Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant, Grow Wilders! It's common knowledge that, along with the leek and dragon, daffodils are the quintessential symbol of Wales. What's a bit more tricky is telling native UK daffodils apart from their just-as-awesome but not as authentically Welsh counterparts.
If you're 100% confident that you already know the difference, then you might not want to read any further - get back to eating your rarebit and Welsh cakes! However, if you're anything like the rest of us you might want to test yourself by answering the following question: which of these is an authentic UK native wild daffodil?
If you answered 'A', congratulations - that's Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the UK's only native daff and bona-fide Welsh icon. As well as having a storied history and a unique place in the hearts and minds of people from the UK, this delightful daff can be easily identified when compared to its close relatives once you know how.
So what exactly do you mean by 'wild daffodil'?
There’s nothing quite like coming across the distinctive yellow blooms of a clump of wild daffodils on an early spring day. Wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) - also commonly known as the Lent Lily, the Bell Rose, and even the Daffadowndilly - are native to Western Europe, although it’s not clear whether the species is a true British native or has been introduced to Britain. These popular wild flowers were once a very common sight in England and Wales, though they rapidly declined in the mid-19th century, partly due to habitat loss. Today they are considered rare in some areas.
Wild daffodils can be identified by their six pale yellow petals, which tend to be thinner and have more of a teardrop profile than other daffodils' do, and vibrant yellow central trumpet. They tend to be smaller than commercial varieties of daffodil, growing up to 35cm tall and with flowers between 4-6cm in diameter, as opposed to the teabag-sized whoppers most of us are used to. They're not only found in Wales, but across Western Europe.
How did daffodils come to symbolise Wales?
The daffodil is the national flower of Wales and is traditionally worn on St David’s Day, which celebrates Wales’ patron saint, David ('Dewi sant' in Welsh), on the 1st March every year. He lived in the sixth century and was known to have founded a large monastery in west Wales on the site of St David’s Cathedral ('Ty Dewi').
The true St David’s Day daffodil is considered by some to be the Tenby daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus subspecies major, also known by the synonym N. obvallaris), which grows wild in South Wales. Unlike the common N. pseudonarcissus variety, the Tenby Daffodil has an all-yellow flower (pictured below). We love them both equally, so we're not coming down on either side here.
The wild daffodil is thought to have been a symbol of Wales since the 19th century. Its popularity may have come from a link with the Welsh for daffodil, ‘Cenhinen Bedr’, which means St Peter's Leek - and of course, the flower tends to be in bloom around early march, the time of St David’s Day. There is much more historical precedent for wearing a leek on St David's Day, as records detailing this go back to the 6th century; according to folklore, St David himself ordered Welsh soldiers to wear leeks into battle against the much-hated Saxons, and in the 14th century Welsh archers decked themselves out in green and white leek-themed uniforms.
Another theory is that wearing the flower on St David’s Day was popularised by the Welsh-born Prime Minister David Lloyd George. It's also a lot more vibrant and a bit less smelly - as great as leeks are in a soup, they don't make quite so striking a buttonhole as the cheeky yellow daffodil.
If you're determined to be loyal to leeks, you could stage a leek eating competition like these Royal Welsh soldiers did in 1969. Yum!
Whatever the reason, the daffodil remains a potent symbol of rebirth and new beginnings - their cheery blooms are a sign of nature’s optimism, heralding spring. Traditionally, it's represented hope, folly and unrequited love, feelings that we're sure some of you reading this might have attached to the Welsh football and rugby teams some years (although maybe not in 2019 - did someone say 'Grand Slam'?).
However you want to celebrate, why not show our native daff some St David's Day love and plant a few bulbs? They won't flower this year, but you're nearly guaranteed a shock of festive yellow blooms next year - daffodils are notoriously resilient and dependable, as well as being stunning.