Daffodils

For an illustrated version, see pages 11-12 in The EnvironMentor Winter 2014 issue.

Daffodils -- STORY: "The Dance of Yellow Star"

Poets say that on a frosty winter night, the stars "dance" in the sky. Have you seen them? I'll bet the young ones have to take dancing lessons.

I'll bet the dance instructor scolds, "Don't watch your feet! Don't look down!" The little stars try hard to remember the steps without looking. "Hold your head high! And remember to SMILE!"

The little stars practiced for hours. They knew that the big stars have to keep dancing all night long. If they stop to rest, or look down, they might fall out of the sky! In order to join the big stars, they would have to learn their dance routines really well.

Little Yellow Star was a very talented dancer, but she was also curious. Once during lessons, when she had happened to glance downward, she had seen a lovely blue world with white swirls and brown patches. But the next time she caught a glimpse of it, those patches had turned green! What was going on?

She really wanted to know, but she couldn't stop to study that world. "Don't watch your feet! Don't look down!" warned the dance instructor. She had to hold her head high and SMILE while remembering all the fancy footwork. She practiced and practiced.

But one night as her class rehearsed for their big debut, she peeked just one second at that blue world--and saw that some of the green patches had turned brown again, and some of them were covered with white! How very strange! She stared and stared.

"Look up!" thundered the dance instructor. "Hold your head high and SMILE!" but it was already too late. Yellow Star felt herself sinking. She quickly did some dance steps but they didn't help--she was falling, falling from the sky!

Yellow Star fell faster, faster, faster until THUMP! she crashed into a drift of that white, cold stuff that was covering a brown patch. Buried in snow, she hid in shame from the night sky.

In spring, when the snow melted, Yellow Star could peek out at the clear night sky where her classmates were now dancing. She would never join them.

What could she do on this blue and brown planet? Slowly she reached up out of the ground. Cautiously she grew taller. Finally her yellow starry face emerged--and she found herself dancing in the wind!

Yellow Star bloomed on this Earth as a daffodil. She dances now on many continents in the spring. We love to watch her dancing, even though she still tends to watch her feet.

(Source: I composed this story when a colleague challenged me to explain the "origin" of daffodils. I remembered that my dance teacher often scolded me not to watch my feet.)

Daffodils -- FACT

Long ago, daffodils and their cousins narcissus and jonquil did not live in America. Their original home was in Mediterranean regions that have mild winters and long springs with some rain. Then the summers and autumns are very dry.

Daffodils disappear underground for much of the year. In spring they send up their long pointy green leaves, and then their long leafless flower stalks. The flowers dance in the spring wind for a week or two, then fade. The leaves grow taller for a while, producing food that they store in their underground bulbs. But the leaves wither and turn brown by late spring. The plant waits underground until the next spring.

How does the daffodil’s life cycle fit into the climate of their original Mediterranean home? How do daffodils take advantage of good weather, then avoid heat and drought?

Mediterranean people loved the daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil for bringing cheerful color to the bare brown ground of early spring. They made up fanciful legends about them, and used some for medicine (though it probably didn’t work). Romans brought daffodils to northern Europe and Brittain. Much later, settlers from those countries brought the flowers to America.

 
NOTE: Although daffodils and their cousins are not native, I think they may be more familiar to town-dwelling students than our more elusive native spring flora. And their life cycle gives us a chance to discuss plant adaptations to climate and environment.