The method of identifying and categorizing daffodils hasn’t always been as clear and organized as it is today. In fact, classification of the different types of Narcissus wasn’t attempted, in earnest, until 1908, following their rise to popularity. Even then, the classification system underwent a series of revisions and expansions until 1998, when the system used today was solidified.
Evidence of the popularity of daffodils dates back to antiquity. However, in the 19th century daffodils became immensely popular to breeders and hybridizers, and new cultivars were created at an impressive rate. The result was a massive peak in horticultural interest and a market flush with options of varying sizes, forms, colors, and seasonality, making extensive classification necessary to categorize the emerging species and cultivars. The system currently in place developed from the continued growth of the daffodil industry, and most of the striking colors and shapes we see today are from later hybridizing efforts.
When identifying daffodils, determining its division is just the first step. Another categorizing system we use is color classification. This color-based system includes the division of the flower (in this case 13), followed by the color of the perianth segments, or tepals, and the color(s) of the corona.
The tepals are identified first, then the corona. In this case, the tepals are white, and is noted in the code as a W. The corona for this daffodil is comprised of three colors. In the code, the colors are recorded starting from the base of the corona, moving outward to the rim. The base of the corona in our example is green, then yellow, with a red rim. This is noted in the code as GYR.
This system of classification was adopted by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1975. It continues to be immensely useful for identifying unknown daffodils and maintaining historic collections today.
Division 1 (Trumpet)
Solitary flowers (one flower per stem). The cup’s length is equal to or exceeds the length of the perianth segments, or tepals.
Division 2 (Large-Cupped)
Solitary flowers (one flower per stem). The cup’s length is between one-third and the full length of the perianth segments, but never quite matching the full length.
Division 3 (Small-Cupped)
Solitary flowers (one flower per stem). The cup length is less than one-third the length of the perianth segments.
Division 4 (Double)
One or more flowers per stem. Flowers exhibit a double set of perianth segments, or corona, or cup, segments, or both.
Division 5 (Triandrus)
Often two or more flowers per stem. Narcissus triandrus are very different from other daffodils: flowers face down toward the grown and the perianth segments are curved backwards.
Division 6 (Cyclamineus)
Solitary flowers (one flower per stem). Narcissus cyclamineus has a distinctive appearance: flowers face slightly downward and have short pedicels, or the small stalk of an individual flower, with perianth segments bent backward away from the corona.
Division 7 (Jonquilla)
Between one and five flowers per stem. Sometimes, but not usually, there can be eight flowers per stem. Flowers are usually fragrant and the perianth segments curve backwards slightly. The corona is often wider than it is long.
Division 8 (Tazetta)
Each sturdy stem can have three to twenty flowers. Flowers are often fragrant. The perianth segments spread but do not reflex.
Division 9 (Poeticus)
Typically solitary flowers (one flower per stem). Perianth segments pure white with a corona that is extremely stout or disc-shaped (less than one-fifth the length of the perianth segments). Corona coloring is typically with a green and/or yellow at the base and red at the rim, but can be wholly or partially of other colors. The six anthers are often set at two different lengths. Flowers are fragrant.
Division 10 (Bulbocodium)
Solitary flowers (one flower per stem). The corona is considered dominant compared to the perianth segments. The filaments and style are often curved with anthers attached centrally to filament, resembling the letter “T”.
Division 11a (Split-Cupped Collar)
Daffodils with a split corona, whose segments rest opposite, or directly overtop, the perianth segments. The corona typically has six segments.
Division 11b (Split-Cupped Papillon)
Daffodils with a split corona, whose segments rest alternately above the perianth segments. The corona typically has six segments.
Division 12 (Other Daffodil Cultivars)
Narcissus ‘Ngaire Rogers’ is an example of a division 12 daffodil. Usually defined as inter-division hybrids. All other Narcissus that do not fit into the previous categories.
Division 13 (Species, Wild Variants, Wild Hybrids)
Narcissus viridiflorus is an example of a division 13 daffodil. These are the straight species, wild variants, and wild hybrids that have been found in nature, and are only distinguished by their botanical name.
Hand drawn images of Narcissus divisions courtesy of Claire Lyman.