A Close-up View of the Paper White Narcissus
Close-up View of the
Paper White Narcissus
by Brian Johnston (Canada)
Daffodils and Paper White Narcissi, are
both members of the Lily or Amaryllidaceae
family. Although Paper Whites are small in size, they are
extremely popular, in part due to the fact that their bulbs can easily
be forced to bloom indoors during the winter period. Most
species possess a pleasant scent that adds to their charm.
Although as the name suggests, most flowers are white in colour, a few
species have been cultivated with a yellow hue. There are even a
few varieties that sport two or three additional whorls of petals.
The name Narcissus refers to Greek
mythology, where a strikingly handsome youth named Narkissos, falls in love with his
own reflection while gazing into a pool of water. In one
variation of the tale, he falls into the water and is drowned. In
another, he becomes ill and dies. In both versions however, the
first Narcissus flower springs from the ground at the place of his
demise. According to the dictionary, there are three acceptable
plurals of Narcissus: Narcissi, Narcissuses, and Narcissus.
The first two plurals are preferred in places such as Canada and Great
Britain, while the last is preferred in the United States.
Each Narcissus bulb can produce as
many as twelve flowers during the blooming period . The image
below shows the contents of a flower pot containing eight bulbs which
are just about to bloom. Notice the long, narrow leaves, whose
shape is properly called ‘linear’ in botanical terms.
The tip of a flower’s stalk is
visible below As you can see, the group of buds is initially
enclosed by a protective, pale green membrane. The buds burst
though the membrane as they increase in size. Each bud has an
oval top in which the three petals and reproductive structures are
protected by a whorl of three white sepals. Connecting this upper
structure to the dark green ovary, is a rather long pale green
tube. (The water drops seen in the second, and several other
images, were part of an experiment to see if they added interest to the
photograph. After much thought, I decided that this was just a
feeble attempt to ‘guild the lily’ – no pun intended.)
It doesn’t take long for the buds
to begin to open. They don’t all open at once, but rather in
sequence – topmost first. The second image shows their appearance
after about twelve hours.
Eventually, all of the flowers on
the stem bloom. Notice that the protective membrane at the base
of the umbel has turned brown,
and has started to disintegrate. (An umbel is a cluster of
flowers in which the individual flower stalks grow from the same point.)
Two photomicrographs showing the
cellular structure of this tissue-paper thin membrane can be seen below.
Notice the small size of the
‘trumpet’ in the Narcissi compared to that in Daffodils.
The three-membered whorl
immediately beneath the trumpet is composed of actual petals, whereas the three-membered
whorl under the first is composed of the protective sepals mentioned earlier.
Since sepals and petals are indistinguishable from one another, they
are more properly referred to as the flower’s six tepals.
We are close enough to the flower
at this point to distinguish three anthers coated with bright orange
pollen grains, and the pale green pistil.
If a couple of the flower’s tepals
are carefully removed, it is evident that there are two sets of
anthers, an upper and a lower. Each anther is connected by its
stubby filament to the wall of the ‘trumpet’. The stigma is
supported by a very long style that descends deep into the trumpet’s
Ellipsoidal pollen grains can be
seen clinging to the style in the image that follows.
The stigma has stubby, hair-like
protuberances that increase its surface area, and help hold on to
pollen grains brought by visiting insects.
Narcissus pollen grains do not have
exactly the same shape. In the photomicrograph below, the members
of the small group appear to have a triangular shape.
Front and back views of an umbel
follow. Notice in the second image, a tardy bud that has yet to
bloom. Botanically speaking, a flower’s pistil consists of three
parts: the stigma, style and the seed producing ovary. In a
Narcissus umbel, the darker green, unfertilized ovaries stand out
The ovary has a very shiny surface
texture. This is also true of the plant’s stalks and stem.
Notice the very distinctive tiny,
white spots that cover the ovary’s surface.
As an amateur macro-photographer, I
often find that the flower is not the most interesting part of a
plant. To me, the stem of the Narcissus is the most visually
appealing structure. The image that follows shows the point at
which the plant’s leaves diverge from the main stalk.
Here is a closer view of the same
location. Notice the sculptural quality of this structure, and
the interesting darker green bands that add visual interest. The
image on the right is a highly magnified view of a section of one of
the bands seen in the other image. Notice that here too, we see
tiny white dots; these however are microscopically small.
Here is essentially the same image
with, and without water drops. Which do you prefer?
Notice in the sequence of two
images, that the water drops are acting as tiny magnifying lenses that
show the microscopic cellular detail beneath.
The very thin tissue wrappings that
form the outer structure of the stem, are remarkably shiny.
Photomicrographs showing the
cellular structure of these wrappings can be seen below. At the
edge of the wrapping material, some of the cells are irregular in
shape, and are white rather than green.
Paper Whites are a common sight
outdoors in the early spring, and indoors throughout the winter.
These charming little plants are interesting on a variety of
levels. Why not take a closer look the next time you see one?
The low magnification, (to 1:1),
macro-photographs were taken using a 13 megapixel Canon 5D full frame
DSLR, using a Canon EF 180 mm 1:3.5 L Macro lens.
An 8 megapixel Canon 20D DSLR,
equipped with a specialized high magnification (1x to 5x) Canon macro
lens, the MP-E 65 mm 1:2.8, was used to take the remainder of the
The photomicrographs were taken
using a Leitz SM-Pol microscope (with a dark ground condenser), and the
A Flower Garden of
A complete graphical index of all
of my flower articles can be found here.
The Colourful World of
A complete graphical index of all
of my crystal articles can be found here.
Microscopy UK or their contributors.
Published in the April
2010 edition of Micscape.
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