February 25th, 2004
A Tale of Two Narcissus

Narcissus tazetta x italicus (left) and Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’

One of the bulbs I found in my garden when I moved in over ten years ago was a Narcissus tazetta cross. These narcissus (in contrast to the paperwhite narcissus) have wide strappy dark green leaves, yellow cups, bloom later, a much more pleasant scent, and thrive year after year on heavy clay soil without much attention.

So based on Scott Ogden’s description in Garden Bulbs for the South and the fact that I live in an older Austin neighborhood, I was pretty sure my N. tazetta was ‘Grand Primo’. But I had some doubts. Scott Ogden said that ‘Grand Primo’ blooms in late February and mine usually begin blooming on New Year’s Day (depending on the amount of rain in November and December). The few photos I found confused me more. My tazetta has distinctly separate, thin, pointed, petals which tend to twist back slightly, forming wind-blown stars. Other photos of ‘Grand Primo’ show overlapping petals that curve inward.

This season, with its unusually dry December and an unusually wet February, provided an answer to the mystery. I have two different tazetta crosses. The flower on the left bloomed as usual beginning in January. But then three more clumps came up much later than the rest, with slightly shorter leaves and scapes. When they began blooming a couple of weeks ago, I could see the difference.

I think that the flower on the left is Narcissus tazetta v. italicus. The one on the right could be ‘Grand Primo’ or even ‘Avalanche’.

If it ever stops raining (did I actually say that?), I’ll take some more photos.

Update: February 5, 2008

Update: December 25, 2015

Today a fourth Narcissus tazetta opened. This has been a good year because of the heavy rain on October 30 and throughout November. I find it very difficult to tell one little narcissus apart from another in photographs (especially close ups). I need a side-by-side comparison. So here is a note to my future self.

From left to right: unknown paperwhite narcissus, Narcissus ‘Grandiflora’, Narcissus tazetta x italicus, Narcissus tazetta var orientalis ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’.

Update: February 13, 2020

This year both the italicus and ‘Grand Primo’ bloomed better than ever. I was ahead of schedule weeding and feeding them. And we got good rains at the end of December and early January.

As usual, the italicus bloomed first. But the ‘Grand Primo’ was right behind so that there was a bit of overlap. In one bed in the front of the house where they got mixed in together, the dark green foliage of the ‘Grand Primo’ was distinctively different than the lighter gray foliage of the italicus. But the italicus is still larger and strappier than the typical paperwhites.

Oddly, this year, it was ‘Grandiflora’ that bloomed first (in December)…weeks before the unnamed paperwhites or the italicus.

by M Sinclair Stevens

2 Responses to post “A Tale of Two Narcissus”

  1. From Mark Longley, Manor, Texas:

    I have a narcissus called ‘Early Pearl’ that’s an heirloom seedling of ‘Grand Primo’. It looks very similar but starts blooming in early January. My ‘Early Pearl’ finished its last few blooms a week ago and my ‘Grand Primo’ is just barely starting. So perhaps that’s what you suspect is not really ‘Grand Primo’ in your garden.

    I have no idea of what it could be as other people’s photos are contradictory. As it turns out, what I initially thought was the ‘Grand Primo’ turned out to be the italicus. It was the one that began blooming in January. The other flower blooms much later, usually mid-February. — mss

  2. From Annie in Austin:

    Whatever is happening in your garden sure looks similar to what happens in mine, MSS! The earlier-blooming unnamed tazettas are pointier and the later-blooming, shorter ones have wider petals coming to a point. I bought the later-blooming narcissus in Austin labeled ‘Grand Primo’.

    The weird thing is that I planted two groups of the unnamed tazettas, a few in the back border and a few near the shed. They come up in both spots each year. I planted a couple of ‘Grand Primo’ near the shed and a few more in the front bed near the veranda.

    But both kinds of narcissus now grow near the veranda! Maybe crossing & seeding is the answer. (think I’ll copy this comment onto my Feb 6 blog post.)

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    If I remember my Scott Ogden correctly, he does state that the Narcissus tend to cross. — mss