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The narcissus, a member of the daffodil family, appears each spring, cheerfully brightening the once-drab winter landscape with a pop of white and orange. But, like many spring blossoms, their name is derived from a myth with an intriguing story behind it. So why is a contemporary warm-weather flower associated with a cautionary tale from Greek mythology? Here’s the story of how the cheerful narcissus got its name from a surprisingly dark story:

A Mythological Take on Reflections

The Greeks wisely used fables and allegorical stories to help spread the word about avoiding problematic behaviors. Too prideful, and you might be turned into a spider like Ariadne, who challenged the goddess Athena herself to a weaving contest. Steal, and you might be chained to a rock for painful punishment like Prometheus. Seduce someone who was already spoken for,and entire books of the goddess Hera’s annoyance with her philandering husband Zeus awaited you. For a culture that put a great deal of emphasis on appearance, particularly for men, Narcissus had a more subtle danger to warn the masses about: vanity.


Like many stories in Greek mythology, Narcissus was burdened early on by prophesy. A wise, blind seer by the name of Tiresias warned him that he’d live a very long time, so long as he never admired his reflection. Avoiding mirrors was difficult in an appearance-centric culture, but Narcissus managed to for a great deal of his life. However, he peered down into a pool of water as an adult, became captivated by his own reflection, and – depending on the version of the myth – he either wasted away while staring or slid into the pool and drowned. Either way, not exactly a happy ending to the story.

The Flower and the Fable

So what does this surprisingly bleak story have to do with such a sunny flower? Daffodils, particularly wild ones, are often found at the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams, looking down into the waters below. As they age, wither, and die, the bowed head of the flower droops closer to its stem, appearing to look even more intently at the ground or the water near its roots.

This subtle nod to Narcissus’ end caused the ancient Greeks to believe the Narcissus flower was the incarnation of the man himself, a beautiful but stark reminder to avoid vanity and stay focused on the world and people around you instead. In some versions of the myth, this cautionary hero gets a little more benefit-of-the-doubt, too: alternate versions indicate that he actually pined away missing his lost twin sister, and looked at his own reflection to see her features. This slightly sunnier version casts the bright flower in a better light: that of the enduring love for family, and the beauty of cherished memories.

No matter which version of Narcissus’ tale the flower of the same name brings to mind, there’s one undeniable truth: it’s a beautiful bloom. Planted in spring gardens or presented as a fresh floral arrangement, the gorgeous mix of creamy white and yellow-red centers make a joyful bouquet for any gift-giving occasion. Plant narcissus bulbs before spring, and you’ll be able to enjoy a colorful show emerging as the snow and ice melt away.

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