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:


            Paperwhite Narcissus

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

Further Information

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:

Julie

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19 Comments on “What’s the Difference Between Daffodils, Jonquils, and Buttercups?”

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  • pam winters Says:
    April 21st, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    in tennessee everything is a buttercup. daffodil and buttercups are synonymous. i’m unhappy that you think we are ALL wrong.



  • peggy Says:
    April 7th, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    I am answering the question about flowers planted that were yellow and then finding white ones in their place coming up. My answer is the same about all flowers: If the flower sets seeds as the result of reproductive parts mixing two different flowers by sending the pollen of one to the ovule of another, the seed when planted or sown naturally, may produce a new hybrid. That means the flower may be different in color and eventually replace the original.
    When a bright color which is not dominant in the genetic make-up, is one of the parents, the more common color may be produced. A hybrid will not be the same for every seed, as the seeds can have any mix of parental genes. Most hybrids that are in hot demand were produced by expensive means and may not be as hardy as the old original parents, which when left on their own may produce so many inferior colors but hardy plants that they crowd out the preferred choices. Good example: phlox, although some of the new ones produced by themselves may be lovely, they are not the same as the originals. If you want a clone of the original plant with the same qualities and attributes, take a cutting. That is easier with some plants than others and I have never taken a cutting of a daffodil. However, it is very easy to tear the clump of desirable daffodils apart and plant all the little bulbs which will come up and be exactly like the original ones.



  • L S Says:
    February 23rd, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Thanks so much ! I too have been searching for an answer that explains the early daffodil flower that is naturalized in our wooded setting. They are smaller and come up on the heals of my crocus. I called them jonquils so people wouldn’t confuse them with the larger hybred varieties. My bad 😕. I will be looking for jonquils now, especially for their fragrance 😊 and to quench my curiosity !



  • Ga James Says:
    February 4th, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    ‘Round here they are all jonquils. We like to enjoy them while we sit on the veranda eating our butter beans and grits.



  • Pam Says:
    April 20th, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    I have transplanted jonquils from old house sites in the country to my house. They were yellow at the old site but they are coming up white at my house. Can you explain this please?



  • John Says:
    April 20th, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    My jonquils (they are!) have traveled. Each time they moved
    they left “children” behind:
    Louisville, KY: ?? – 1943 & on
    St. Matthews, KY: 1943 – 1967 and on…
    Macedonia, OH; 1967 – 1980 and on …
    Macedonia, OH (house #2) 1980 thru now….
    Three moves and 72yrs of history.
    John


  • Official Comment:


    Ben Erickson Says:
    March 7th, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Cindy,
    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed our article.



  • Cindy Pye Says:
    March 6th, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    I have enjoyed your article so much! Thank you for breaking it down the way you did. Jonquils are my favorites, followed almost at a tie by Double Daffodils that my little brother dubbed “Butter and Egg” flowers when we were young. I’m sharing your link on my latest blog post at http://www.cindychandlerpye.com/blog so others can enjoy your article.



  • Amanda Kohl Says:
    February 17th, 2015 at 6:52 am

    Thank you so much for helping me identify the early spring flowers I found blooming at our new home in western NC. They are a beautiful and pleasant surprise! After moving in December, I’m sure we’ll find many more perinials as the weather changes. We are currently having an extremely cold snap with snow and temps dropping to the single digits over the next week!! Is there anything I can do to protect these early bloomers from the bitter cold and snow? I appreciate your guidance!



  • Dale Humphries Says:
    March 27th, 2013 at 9:52 am

    I have been calling daffodils jonquils for the longest time. I never knew that a single flower was the daffodil and multi-flowers is a jonquil. Hope I got that right. Thanks for the information!!!!!



  • Marcia Shuffett Says:
    May 6th, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Hi, I was wondering why my Buttercups didn’t bloom this year. Even in the past few years they haven’t bloomed very well. Also, I was wondering if it is a good idea to plant Hyacinths and Gladiolus together? And if it is,is there a planting arrangement you could give me. I am a first-timer in the gardening business and I need help. lol

    Marcia



  • jack Says:
    April 24th, 2012 at 8:10 am

    this is probably the fifth or sixth time over the past few years that i tried to learn the difference and it the first time i have been satisfied with the results

    thanks!



  • Mike Says:
    April 8th, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    My daffodils did not bloom this year. What do I do?
    Mike



  • Robin Says:
    March 17th, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks.



  • Julie Says:
    March 15th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Thank you! This was very helpful in a debate. Many Tennessee folks refer to jonquil as buttercups and I (former Michigander) was sure they were daffodil. I take a small comfort in knowing at least I was within the species!



  • Peggy Marks Says:
    March 10th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you for your thorough explanation with photos. I have been calling my little flower out front jonquils when they came up this year, but I decided to look for a sure answer. You answer did it — and they ARE jonquils. They are not daffodils!! Now I know for sure!!



  • Peggi Says:
    March 7th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    This is the best explanation I’ve seen about the differences between DAFFODILS and JONQUILS. Thank you.



  • sheryl grant Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Julie
    How can you tell the difference between a jonquil and a daffodil bulb when there is no foliage?
    Sheryl



  • Annette Henderson Says:
    March 25th, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Have always wondered what the difference between the jonquil and daffodil was, thanks, now I know, and can pass it on to others who want to know.


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