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Uncovering Historic Daffodils at The New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden’s daffodil collection was established in 1898 with a gift of about 52 varieties from British horticulturist Peter Barr. In 1924 the collection grew exponentially with a naturalized planting across a sprawling hillside in the southern portion of the Garden.While we celebrate the spectacle of this naturalized planting, it does come with some inherent management challenges. It can be very difficult to keep track of specific cultivars planted in this way over such a long period. Some daffodils die unnoticed and are replaced by other thriving neighbors, seedlings emerge, and any unwritten information about the collection is likely to be forgotten as the stewardship responsibilities pass from one hand to another over the decades.

In spring 2019, we set out to catalog the current Narcissus collection, as it became clear how little documentation existed for the historic daffodil plantings. Initial plans to create an informational pamphlet featuring approximately 30 known cultivars, predominantly modern varieties with a few known heirlooms, were scuttled as the scope of the documentation project revealed itself. That spring, over 130 unique daffodils were photographed. We had grossly underestimated how many heirloom daffodils remained alive and thriving.

The goal of this project was expanded to establish a thorough and exhaustive documentation of all Narcissus in the collection surrounding Daffodil Hill, as well as their locations. Photographs proved crucial in fueling our research efforts. So with the plan set to formally map and properly inventory the entire collection in spring 2020, the rest of 2019 was spent collecting any and all pieces of information to fill the gaps in our records.

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