What’s the Difference Between Daffodils, Jonquils, and Buttercups?
By: Julie Day
Common daffodils have single blossoms and flat, strappy leaves.
“Throughout my life, I’ve heard those yellow spring bulbs referred to as daffodils, jonquils, narcissus, and buttercups. Is there a difference, or are they all names for the same plant?” -Shelley
In different regions, you will hear all four terms – sometimes incorrectly – used to refer to the happy yellow flowers that lead the way for spring. There are some differences, though. Here’s a guide to help you name your plants correctly:
- Narcissus: The term narcissus (Narcissus sp.) refers to a genus of bulbs that includes hundreds of species and literally tens of thousands of cultivars! The Narcissus genus includes daffodils, jonquils, and paperwhites, among many others, so when in doubt, this is the term to use. However, when someone says “Narcissus,” they’re usually referring to the miniature white holiday blooms of Narcissus tazetta papyraceous, known as paperwhites.
- Daffodil: This is the official common name for ANY of the plants that fall into the genus Narcissus. So, if the plant is considered a Narcissus, it is also considered a daffodil as well. However, most people use the term “daffodil” when referring to the large, trumpet-shaped flowers of the Narcissus pseudonarcissus. These are those big, showy, familiar bulbs that bloom in spring that we all know and love.
- Jonquil: This term actually refers to a specific type of daffodil known as Narcissus jonquilla, although the name is often used as a more general term for daffodils in certain parts of the country. They are most easily identified by their dark green, tube-shaped leaves as compared to other types of daffodils which have flat leaves. Jonquils also tend to have clusters of several flowers, instead of just one bloom, along with a strong scent.
- Buttercup: This is actually an incorrect term when referring to daffodils or Narcissus bulbs of any kind. Buttercups are a totally different flower (Ranunculus sp.) that consist of an herbaceous perennial (that can also be an annual) that has small yellow or white flowers with five separate petals. Buttercups also flower in the spring, though they may continue to bloom throughout the summer.
For more information, go to the American Daffodil Society website.
Individual profiles of each type of plant can be found on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website:
- Common Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)
- Jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla)
- Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus tazetta papyraceous)
- Buttercup (Ranunculus sp.)