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  • ljmarkson

The Daffodil Dilemma in My Wildlife Sanctuary

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

In early spring my yard becomes a carpet of naturalized daffodils thanks to the hundreds of bulbs I strategically planted years ago. So far, they’ve been given a reprieve from my ruthless efforts to replace the non-native plants with natives to maximize the value of each plant adds to my wildlife habitat yard.

This daffodil bud is one of hundreds in my yard and the universal sign that spring is on the way! You can see the blurry tangle of dried native plants it is growing through.

As beloved and iconic as daffodils are, they are native to Europe and there isn’t a single species native to North America. Yet the cheery sight of bright yellow daffodils when the landscape is still drab brown is a universal reminder that winter is waning, and sunny days are ahead. In early spring the daffodils grow through the dried plant matter that has been left to overwinter and signal that my yard is intentionally “messy”, not neglected! I think of them as my way of making a positive connection with my wild looking yard for people who are walking or driving by. Who doesn’t love the sight of naturalized daffodils?

Bright and sunny daffodils grow through and obscure the overwintering dried stalks of my native plants...helping bring goodwill to my unconventional yard.

Despite how long they’ve been cultivated and how naturalized they are in wild areas, daffodils are not considered invasive, meaning they aren’t displacing native plants and don’t appear on any state invasive species list. They only exist in wild areas that have already been disturbed by man.

They may not be invasive, but daffodils have been highly manipulated by breeders for the color, size and shape of the flowers and have lost the characteristic fragrance, pollen and nectar that draws insects to them. You might find a stray European honeybee or even a hungry native bee on a late blooming daffodil, but they aren't magnets for native pollinators the way native flowers are. The general rule that flowers most attractive to humans are not the most attractive to pollinators seems to fit. Daffodils offer even less value here in Georgia because they also bloom before most pollinators are out and about,

There are zero pollinators in sight for this gorgeous people-pleasing hybrid daffodil.

Daffodils also aren’t all that interesting to wildlife because they’re highly toxic. One of the reasons they easily colonize in the wild is deer don’t like them. In the suburban garden squirrels may move the bulbs to replace them with nuts, and chipmunks might toss them above ground when digging, but they aren’t eating the daffodils.

These perfect daffodils growing in my right of way don't have to worry about insects or wildlife bothering them which is great for people walking by, but not so great for nurturing nature.

There are multiple schools of thought on the place daffodils have in nature, particularly since they've been cultivated since 300BC. Naturalist Mark Avery thinks intrusive feral daffodils represent human intrusion in natural areas and look like graffiti in the countryside. Nature writer Marlene Condon makes the argument that non-native plants, including naturalized daffodils, can provide an invaluable service and rehabilitate the soil where there is damage and a degraded environment by filling in an area after it has been left barren because of an altered soil profile brought by man, storms or both.

I’m a bit of a native plant purist and don’t think non-native daffodils should be planted in wild areas like parks, but I also don’t consider daffodils weeds the way I do early blooming hellebores which are evergreen, displace native plants in my yard and I predict will eventually become invasive .

On balance, daffodils are neutral additions to my yard:

  • Daffodils bloom before any of my spring native plants

  • Daffodils disappear by the time the native plants need the space they occupy

  • Daffodils are not particularly helpful to my ecosystem, but also aren’t harmful or invasive

  • Daffodils winning quality for me is they bring goodwill for my unique naturalized landscape choices in a neighborhood of obsessively manicured monoculture lawns

For now, they’re welcome to stay. I’m about moving the needle any way I can!

I'll let these ambassadors of spring continue to draw people to my naturalized yard even though they offer little value to the ecosystem.

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marlenecondon
Sep 26, 2023

Just so you'll know: Carpenter Bees feed quite a bit at daffodils. And if daffodils are spreading, it's because pollinators have helped them to make seeds--which means that our native insects ARE making use of these plants and therefore, the daffs ARE helping your ecosystem. And as you point out, the "daffs" are disappearing as other plants are coming up. I like your idea of having them so passersby don't look at your yard as "neglected". Don't dislike plants solely because they aren't native. Observe them carefully and you'll find native insects (and possibly other animals) DO make valuable use of them. Sincerely, Marlene A Condon, Author and Photographer, The Nature-friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Plants, Wildlife, a…

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georgia
Apr 11, 2022

Hi Laura,

I'm the editor of the Ecological Landscape Alliance Newsletter https://www.ecolandscaping.org/news-page/

and I would like to publish one of your articles in the Newsletter. Could you contact me at

Georgia@ecolandscaping.org.


Thank you,

Georgia Harris

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joycehoward
Jan 18, 2022

Yes, hellebores are invasive. I planted some tiny ones given to me by a neighbor. I tended them carefully for a year and loved the pink and white blooms in the winter when not much was blooming. Then I noticed small babies and carefully transplanted them to other areas of my yard. Big mistake! They started spreading and became a nightmare. I learned about native plants and started slowly removing the non-natives including the hellebores. They are hardy and hard to kill. I don't spray toxic chemicals so I chopped, pulled and covered them with cardboard and leaf mulch. After 3 years I have almost removed all of them. It's amazing how you can plant something in your yard, enjoy…

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