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Consumer Horticulture

Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus)

By Mary Welch-Keesey, Purdue University Consumer Horticulture Specialist, at White River Gardens

Paperwhite Narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) is a type of daffodil native to the western Mediterranean. They produce 2-20 small but fragrant white flowers on each flowering stalk. Paperwhites are closely related to the popular spring-flowering daffodil but are different from these plants because they cannot survive Indiana winters (they are hardy only to 10ºF) and because they do not need a cold chill to force them into bloom.

To get paperwhites to bloom you merely need to supply water, sunlight, time and patience. You can plant the bulbs in a pot with potting soil or you can place them on top of gravel so the roots can grow into the water between the rocks.

For the second method, place about 2 inches of gravel in a bowl that does not have drainage holes. Then, settle the bulbs into the gravel and add water to a level just below the base of the bulbs. Place the bowl in a warm, sunny spot. Roots will grow into the water, then leaves will be produced. The flower stalk, which has been inside the bulb all along, will also emerge and blooms will open in 5-6 weeks. Once they get started, paperwhites can grow quicklyÉup to two inches per day!

The blooms last for two to three weeks. Once they are finished blooming, discard the bulbs. Paperwhites cannot survive Indiana's winters out-of-doors and are very difficult to get to rebloom if grown as a house plant.

Some pointers:

If using gravel, use stones that are small, somewhere between pea-sized and one-half inch in diameter. Use a container with no drainage holes.

If growing in gravel, keep the water from touching the base of the bulbs. If the bottom of the bulbs get too wet, they may rot. However, check the water daily to make sure the roots do not dry out.

If the bulbs are growing in potting mix, make sure the pot has drainage holes and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

Low light will result in long lanky leaves that tend to fall over. Place the pot of paperwhites in a spot that receives bright sunlight all day or supplement with an artificial light.

Garden daffodils, as well as tulips, crocus and many other small bulbs can be forced to bloom in winter by planting them in a pot and then placing the pot in the refrigerator for 10 to 16 weeks. Please come back and visit us at the Dick Crum Resource Center. We are forcing many different bulbs into bloom and they will be on display throughout the winter.

For more information, please ask for a copy of the Purdue Extension Service publication HO-19: Forcing Bulbs.



Last updated: 6 April, 2006
For questions on this article, please contact Mary Welch-Keesey (mwelch@indyzoo.com).
Questions about this site should be sent to homehort@purdue.edu

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