Are they a quintessential British flower? Amy Hetherington investigates the real origins of daffodils in the UK and how they became the national symbol of Wales.
How did they get here?
Daffodils are favourites among British gardeners — they’re bright, cheerful and grow easily, but they’re not native to the UK. As a member of the narcissus family, they originated in southern Europe and North Africa and were especially prevalent in the western Mediterranean. The Romans believed that daffodils had healing powers. So much so that they brought the flower with them to Britain. Since then, they have flourished despite our cooler climate and no more so than in Wales.
Isn’t the leek the national symbol of Wales?
Yes, the leek is a national symbol of Wales and was so long before the daffodil. The origins of this are lost in time. However, it is commonly believed it originated in the sixth century when St David, patron saint of Wales, ordered his soldiers to wear leeks on their helmets in the battle against Anglo-Saxon invaders. The battle supposedly took place in a field of leeks.
Historical evidence reveals that in the 14th century, Welsh archers dressed in green and white, the colour of the leek. Tudor kings also ordered the household guard to wear leeks on St David’s Day.
And what about the daffodil?
There is some controversy over why the daffodil became a Welsh national symbol, and there are at least two origin stories.
Some believe that the integration of the daffodil into Welsh identity was purely accidental, resulting from confusion over the Welsh name for the flower. The Welsh for daffodil is cenninen pedr which translates as St Peter’s Leek. Since daffodils are usually in bloom around St David’s Day, it could be an easy mistake to make for a day when leeks are traditionally worn.
Others believe the tradition started with David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as British Prime Minister and a public advocate of the daffodil. He argued the right to use the daffodil as a symbol of Welsh nationalism in several newspaper articles during the early 20th century. He is said to have worn a daffodil at the 1911 Caernofen investiture of the future Edward VIII as Prince of Wales.
Whatever the reason, it’s a recognisable symbol of Wales and a beloved fixture of British gardens and countryside.