A Close-up View of the


Narcissus pseudonarcissus

by Brian Johnston   (Canada)

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.



William Wordsworth   (1770-1850)

The crocus, hyacinth and daffodil are the most widely recognized harbingers of spring in many parts of the world.  In ancient times the daffodil was considered sacred to the gods of the Underworld in many Mediterranean cultures.  Its scientific name Narcissus, derived from the Greek narke, means narcotic, and refers to the belief at the time that the flower’s scent produced a death-like sleep.  The flower’s common name daffodil is thought to derive from a corruption of the name of a different species, the white asphodel.  ‘Affodyl’ became ‘daffodil’.  Eventually the term became associated with a large number of family members with the same general structure.

Modern horticultural techniques have produced many new daffodils to satisfy the appetite of the gardening public.  Some have a strong scent while others have practically none.  All daffodils however, share the same problem;  all parts of the plant, (particularly the bulb), are poisonous.  The taste of the alkaloid containing sap is so unpleasant however, that for most people, and foraging animals, a single bite is more than enough!  This sap is also deleterious to other plants, and thus it is recommended that the cut flowers not be mixed with other varieties in a vase.

The four images that follow show the main parts of a daffodil flower.  There are six pointed petals that form the perianth.  Extending outward from the centre of the petals is the trumpet-shaped cup called the corona.  In this instance, the upper edge of the corona is rippled.  The corona is much deeper yellow, and is composed of much thicker tissue than the perianth.

In the bud stage, the flower is protected by a thin, but strong, membranous sheath called the spathe.  As can be seen below, this spathe splits lengthwise as the bud increases in size.

The base of the spathe is connected to the main stem at the dark green ring seen below.

Two images follow that show the splitting, or ‘unzippering’ of the spathe as the opening bud swells.

Notice how tightly packed the petals are in the unopened bud.

Eventually, the petals begin to separate, revealing the interior of the cup portion of the flower.  Notice the interesting yellow-green shading in the underside of the petals shown in the left image.

A front and back view of a single flower can be seen below.

The spathe continues to enshroud the flower’s base after blooming.

As you can see below, the spathe contains strong lengthwise ‘ribs’ combined with thinner, weaker tissue between the ribs.  This allows the ‘rip’ that forms when the bud grows too large, to be a ‘straight’ one.  The ribs prevent the rip from happening in a crosswise direction.

Under the microscope, the spathe’s cellular structure can be observed.  Note the fine hair-like filaments that cover the upper surface in the image on the left.

The cellular structure of a petal can be seen at right below.

This structure is not uniform over the petal’s surface.  Some areas are less yellow than others (left image), and other areas have observable defects (right image).

When a daffodil flower is viewed from the front, the reproductive structures are clearly visible.  At the very centre is the light-green stigma (female pollen accepting organ).  Surrounding it are the tops of six yellow anthers (male pollen producing organs).

The angled view on the left below reveals the green filaments that support the anthers.  The pale yellow style that supports the stigma is just visible in the right image.

If the petals are removed from a flower, these reproductive structures are easier to see.  Starting from the top, the stigma connects to the style, which is surrounded by the six pollen encrusted anthers, which in turn are supported by their columnar filaments.

These columnar filaments are quite striking when viewed close-up.  The anthers seen in the image at right seem to retain the position shown - close to one another and surrounding the style.

Under the microscope, the many tiny pollen grains that coat the surface of an anther are visible.  The anther’s supporting filament can be seen in the left image.

A higher magnification reveals the vaguely boomerang shape of each grain.

Phase-contrast illumination provides a different perspective.

Two views of the top of the daffodil’s stigma follow.  The stigma consists of three semi-circular lobes, each with a fringe of tiny hair-like protuberances.

A view under the microscope of the top of the stigma can be seen below.

Much higher magnification reveals the nature of the hair-like protuberances.  From above they look like spheres, but in profile they are indeed hair-like.

The style and filaments are connected to the top of the swelling in the stem seen below.  This is the daffodil’s ovary (seed producing organ).

Daffodils belong to the Amaryllidaceae family which contains about 1100 species.  A large number of these species are cultivated for their attractive flowers.  The genus Narcissus includes the daffodils, narcissi and jonquils.

Photographic Equipment

The macro-photographs were taken with an eight megapixel Canon 20D DSLR equipped with a Canon EF 100 mm f 2.8 Macro lens which focuses to 1:1.  A Canon 250D achromatic close-up lens was used to obtain higher magnifications in several images.

The photomicrographs were taken with a Leitz SM-Pol microscope (using dark ground and phase-contrast condensers), and the Coolpix 4500.

 All comments to the author Brian Johnston are welcomed.

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Published in the April 2007 edition of Micscape.
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