Flower of December? Sweet-Smelling Paperwhites/Narcissus

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By Jill Brooke

Maybe it’s because families want to lure you back to the home and hearth during the holidays that Paperwhites are the flowers for December. In the language of flowers, these fragrant blooms symbolize hope and are meant to say without words that you want your beloved to stay just the way they are.

Technically, they are a bulb and part of the genus Narcissus which as we know includes daffodils which are the floral trumpets of spring. Paperwhites are smaller and paper members of the family though also have a bell-shaped center surrounded by six large petals.

They have become the December flower because paperwhites are so easy to grow indoors when a little fragrant sunshine is needed during the colder months. Just put them in a shallow bowl, and add soil, or marbles and rocks. In a few weeks, you have sweet-smelling flowers.

 Ziva, grown in Israel, is the most popular variety and has a strong, somewhat spicy scent. It is widely available.  The Erlicheer Double Paperwhites, with a slight yellow cast, have a delicate scent. And finally, there is Nir, a fragrant and unusual paperwhite. Put these on the table and, as writer Linda Lee observed, your dinner guests won’t ask for dessert. They have more flowers, more stems, better fragrance than the standard paperwhites.

I have these flowers all over the house in shallow pots. Now my family looks forward to the holidays knowing that these flowers are part of our tradition and hopefully will be part of yours too.

You may remember that the flower genus of Narcissus as being named from the mythological Greek figure, Narcissus, a handsome youth who was so vain and arrogant that he become transfixed by the sight of his own reflection in a pool of water and couldn’t stop gazing at himself until the gods punished him by turning him into a flower. Over the years, a daffodil/narcissus symbolized youth, vanity and self-admiration. Then it became a symbol of innocence,  faithfulness. The shift was the belief that the flowers were growing on the side of the pond where Narcissus was admiring himself. Furthermore, because paperwhites grow in December, it is a symbol of hope and beauty to come since most flowers are sleeping for the winter until spring.

 

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