How Old Is That Daffodil?

Daffodils dating back to 1620. The upper is call ‘Van Sion’ and the lower is ‘Butter and Eggs’

Master Gardener – April 25, 2016

By Julie Karmeier
Master Gardener

Being the newest Washington County Master Gardner, I was happy to contribute to the Scoop articles that the current Master Gardeners have been writing for 15+ years. However, I didn’t realize my first article would be on a 400-year-old daffodil – that happened quite by accident.
Several years ago, I thought I was “rescuing” some pitiful looking daffodils from an old homestead that we had purchased. Thinking that they had been over crowed and just needed to be separated to improve their appearance, I planted them in my flower beds. The following years saw no improvement as they still appeared just as raggedy as when they were first dug.
I shared my frustration with another Master Gardner, Leora McTall who has numerous varieties of daffodils in her back yard. I asked if she would take a look at them to see what could be done. To my surprise, she identified them as a historic ‘Van Sion’ daffodil dating before 1620. This particular variety was a double and has competed in the St. Louis Daffodil Show. A 400-year-old daffodil – that was a cause for more research now that my appreciation had suddenly changed.
This daffodil was originally grown in the London garden of Vincent Sion, a Fleming, living in London. The ‘Van Sion’ is also known as ‘Telamonius Plenus’ and is very popular in Europe under the name of Wilmer’s Double Golden Daffodil. ‘Van Sion’ daffodils are found in many old American gardens, vacant lots and out in the middle of nowhere. You may have some in your yard and not realize you have a real treasure. ‘Van Sion’ has been sold and passed-along for centuries.
These tough shaggy mops multiply where many other daffodils can’t survive. According to Old House Gardens, all ‘Van Sion’ bulbs sold in the US today are grown on a small island off the north coast of the Netherlands. The climate is perfect for ripening bulbs which bloom with the doubling neatly contained within the trumpet. However, in the following years the trumpet is gone and the flowers appear as more of an explosion of petals in colors of yellow and green similar to what mine look like now. The ‘Van Sion’ is often confused with the double yellow daffodils called ‘Butter and Eggs’ which is equally as old.
While they are similar, the ‘Van Sion’ typically has green strains on the petals where the ‘Butter and Eggs’ petals are interspersed with shorter petals of gold and orange.
Daffodils are such a welcome site for that first splash of color after a long winter. Sadly, the current daffodil season is coming to an end, but if you are out and about this Spring, take notice of the numerous varieties of daffodils and you just might spot one of these 400-year-old unique daffodils.
If you would like more information on daffodils, please contact your local University of Illinois Master Gardener or your local Extension Service office. Please mark your calendars for the Washington County Master Gardner plant swap to be held at the Nashville Public Library parking lot on May 26.

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