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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 29 March 2015 by John Richards

Some Andalucian Narcissi. Entry 293.

Nine days in Spain

We were in the south of Spain from March 16th-25th. I mention the dates because timing is crucial if one wishes to see certain of the bulbous subjects for which Andalucia is reknowned. We flew Easyjet from Newcastle to Malaga and hired a car, spending three nights in Antequera (Hotel Finca Enslava, very nice but too far out of town to walk in easily), four nights in Ronda (Hotel Reina Victoria, very luxurious, a real treat for peasants such as ourselves), and two nights in the Hotel Posada in the small White Village of Villaluenga del Rosario, of which least said, soonest mended.

The weather was almost uniformly horrible, cold, windy and with rain on nearly all days. In fact the four days in Ronda were marked by almost continuous rain throughout, just like the Lake District, and the famous view was mostly hidden in cloud. I have heard it said that if you want to go hunting Narcissi in Spain you need to expect to put up with some cold wet weather, and this certainly proved to be true on this occasion.

Although we have visited Andalucia several times before, we have mostly been too late for most of the bulbs, and in particular I was an innocent with regard to Narcissus. And what a terrible shock I have received! On the whole I expect there to be reasonable consensus as to the correct name for most European taxa, certainly with regard to such charismatic and popular genera as Narcissus. However, in Andalucia at least, this is far from the case, and for any one taxon/population any search through the literature or the web reveals almost as many names as there are accounts. No Guide exists which will give you any plausible, correct or up-to-date name, certainly for the daffodils, jonquils or Apodanthes, and only for the unmistakeable N. cantabricus and N. pannizianus is there any consensus, and even for the latter, many folk still call it N. papyraceus.

Please, please, please will someone authoritative undertake a DNA survey of all the Spanish and southern French populations, and then sit down and write a sensible Monograph? The Botanical World will be your Debtor.

So what follows will be controversial, based at times on weak evidence, and very likely wrong, but it also involved a number of observations which seem not to be common currency, and possibly the following notes might add to the sum of knowledge concerning this fine genus, and even, conceivably, shed a little light into some notably shady corners.

Narcissus panizzianus

So lets get the easy ones out of the way first. N. panizzianus is the probable  wild ancestor of the cultivated 'Paperwhite' and has quite a wide distribution, including southern France, northern Italy and southern Spain. As is often the case with decorative species which have been cultivated for millenia (Lilium candidum and Tulipa agenensis come to mind), it is doubtful if it is native in all these areas, and hard to say where it did originally stem from, but in the case of the Paperwhite my money would be on Andalucia, where it does seem to behave as a true wild plant.

We found it growing in several areas, always in rather damp grassland on alluvial soils, often in ditches or on the banks of small rivers. We found it first south of Antequera close to the road to El Torcal, and in several places between Ronda and Grazalema. It is very easy to find by the road just below Grazalema. It is a beautiful plant, with an entrancing scent of course. This photo is from the last site.

Narcissus panizzianus

Narcissus cantabricus

N. cantabricus is very early flowering, and we had been warned that we might be too late for it in the second half of March. Certainly, there was no sign of it on cliffs beside the road from Ronda down to the coast at San Pedro, which is a well-known location. We visited the spectacular gorge at El Chorro and proceeded confidently north to a site we had been given, only to find the road shut for 'Obras'. After a long detour to approach the same area from the north, we found that the approach is now shut except for pedestrians, and it is probably a long walk in (we had neither the time or the inclination to find out). 

Knowing that this species seems to favour the local hard reddish acidic Peridodite substrate, we investigated instead an intriguing road which climbs over the Sierra de Aguas from Carratraca to Alora. Parking the car and walking a stretch on the western side of the pass, Sheila hit the jackpot, finding a single N. cantabricus and a large population of Fritillaria lusitanica in rapid succession. I guess the former was a fortunate lagger. Both were growing on steep banks under thin pines.

Narcissus cantabricus Fritillaria lusitanica

Wet ground Jonquils

OK, lets bite the bullet and proceed to discuss the jonquils. These very definitely seem to fall into two major groups. The rush-leaved jonquils mostly occur in very large populations in very wet clay ground at flowering time. They are usually taller with larger darker flowers, dark green rather smooth leaves, and longer pedicels (between the spathe and the ovary).

We found two large populations of these. North of Montejacque, west of Ronda, the meadows are stained yellow with an almost invariably single-flowered plant with rather small flowers with a mostly entire corona and a relatively short pedicel (about 2-2.5 cm, but very variable). The spathe is long and narrow. This plant I believe to be N. assoanus v. praelongus. N. assoanus  was originally known as N. juncifolius, and then N. requienii and this variety has also been called N. baeticus. This is of course a very widespread species in its 'normal' relatively short-tubed guise, and I have seen it in the Pyrenees and it also occurs in southern France. As it was originally involved in the perfume industry, once again it is not easy to say where it is native. However, the Andalucian version is very distinct with its long tube, and is probably at least as closely related to N. jonquilla. I would say that it might deserve specific rank, as N. baeticus.

Narcissus assoanus v praelongus Narcissus assoanus v praelongus Narcissus assoanus

N. cerrolazae

As has been written before, there are large populations of rush-leaved jonquils between the road and the cliff on the road between Grazalema and Ubrique, east of Villaluenga del Rosario. These are variable, and at one stage I thought there were two things there, but now I think they are all N. cerrolazae. These differ from N. assoanus in being bigger with larger flowers, usually multi-headed, relatively smaller coronas which are lobed,  longer pedicels (usually more than 2.5 cm) and a shorter, broader acute spathe. One of many complexities here is that these plants were originally assigned to N. jonquilla, which is close, and some recent accounts call them N. cordubensis. On the SRGC website, 'Rafa' says that he has visited the type locality for N. cordubensis and the plants there are typical N. fernandesii, with entire coronas. Consequently we can assume N. cordubensis is a synonym for N. fernandesii, and that multiheaded jonquils with lobed coronas should be called N. cerrolazaeNotice the lobed corona in the first picture. I am indebted to Anne Wright for passing this information on.

Narcissus cordubensis Narcissus cordubensis

One problem is that most of this population grows behind a fence, but some do grow on the road verge.

Narcissus cordubensis population

This picture shows the distinctive sword-shaped spathes.

Narcissus cordubensis

Rupicola jonquils

We now come to the smaller dry-land jonquils which typically grow in rocky limestone grassland or on cliffs. These have greyish leaves which are rough to the touch and with two ridges, although they are ecologically distinct enough to pose no problems in comparison with the rush-leaved plants.

N. rupicola itself occurs in central and northern Spain and Portugal, and is immediately diagnosed by having virtually no pedicel. Most of the other relatives are Portuguese. This basically leaves N. cuatrecasii as the only dry-land jonquil in Andalucia.

I had previously seen large quantities of N. cuatrecasii in April growing on ledges by the road above Grazalema. This year there was no sign of it, we were too early, but we did find this little plant growing by the road junction between the A 369 and the turn to Farajan. For me, this is typical N. cuatrecasii.

Narcissus cuatrecasii

However, in the Sierra de las Nieves Reserve, by the road to Quiegales,  we found extensive populations which were extremely variable. These all grew on dry limestone, but some at least appeared to be rush-leaved, and many had a noticely large corona. I am now of the opinion that, despite the habitat (which might have been wetter than it appeared due to an altitude of >1250 m), that these were probably N. assoanus, and very possibly better as v assoanus rather than v praelongus. They had a notably large corona, much larger than the plants near Montjacque.

However, growing with it was a plant with smaller, usually single flowers, a smaller corona, and definitely two-ridged leaves (which can be seen in the following photo). These are presumably N. cuatrecasii, and the juxtaposition of both and the variability of the populations raises the spectre of hybridisation.

Narcissus cuatrecasii

Incidentally, examintion of these photos makes me think that N. cuatrecasii has longer, looser, more papery spathes and longer pedicels than N. assoanus.

So, what evidence is there for hybrids? Frankly I would like a chance to go back again and look, now that I have some models to test, but, looking at the photos of populations, I can see variation in tube length, pedicel length and spathe type, and think it is quite likely that these two species do hybridise here.



I am leaving the most interesting populations of all (in my view) until last. These were also found up the road to Quiegales in the Sierra de las Nieves, but higher up, above about 1400 m.

We first found some trumpet daffodils on slopes of limestone grassland above the road. These were most unexpected. In my ignorance I had no idea that any daffodils grew closer than N. nevadensis on the Nevada and N. longispathus on the Cazorla. Unlike those two local endemics, these were always single-headed. They were relatively tall, rather small-flowered plants with a long tube equalling the corona, a tube-like corona with a rather small flare, and twisted leaves. This population was invariably self-coloured. For the time being I am calling this elegant plant N. hispanicus.


Another kilometre further on we encountered large populations of daffodils growing in quite another habitat, wet sludge so wet as to be dangerous to walk in some areas. These plants differed not only in habitat but in many other ways, having very large flowers on short thick stems, with a highly flared bell-shaped corona, a short conical tube much shorter than the corona, thick straight leaves (those of the earlier populations were twisted as is typical for N. hispanicus), and many of them were bicoloured, to the extent that in some the perianth was white.

I am sure that these plants conform to N. bujei, although this has itself been regarded as a variety of N. hispanicus which has again often been regarded as N. pseudonarcissus v major! N. bujei was described from the Sierra de Moreno, some distance to the north, but Zonnefeld (2010) has examined material from the Antequera region. He regards the Quiegales material as N. hispanicus. In my view some of it, the dry ground plants, are indeed that species, but the two taxa seem on this evidence to have quite different ecologies, and I am certain as I can be that the two species are distinct and both occur at Las Quiegales.

Zonnefeld may have found the answer, as he regards N. hispanicus as a diploid, but N. bujei as a triploid resuting from ancient hybridisation with N. longispathus which does not occur in the district today.

None of this explains the bicoloured forms, as such plants seem not to have been recorded for either species!

Narcissus bujei Narcissus bujei Narcissus bujei

Probaby,  if N. hispanicus and N. bujei are distinct, they may creat sterile hybrids, which may indeed prove to be very vigorous clones. with hybrid vigour and spared the cost of reproduction. These plants occurred within the N. bujei population and have many features of N. hispanicus, including the long twisted leaves and narrow parallel corona. They may be hybrids, or merely N. hispanicus.

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