Driftless Home & Garden: Peruvian Daffodils

By By Marlene Fenstermann, Winneshiek County Master Gardener

Perhaps it was a warm summer evening in July 1999 when this writer attended a Saturday night Foot Notes folk dance at the Highlandville two-room schoolhouse, where my older friend Mrs. K. from Decorah taught school years ago. She was busy with those early rooming chores of getting the furnace going so the school children could study in the warmth of the big boiler furnace. As teacher, Mrs. K. sometimes received the assistance of her new husband who also had ongoing demands of a dairy farm. 

But, this Saturday night, the school building was alive and thriving with the happy notes played by the Foot Notes. During the intermission, a friendly retired older gentleman, whose dancing would be briefly stopped so he could dutifully sprinkle sawdust on the floor to make dancing more desirable, approached me and asked for me to go outside with him. Not knowing him well, but I had observed him as an admirable dancer and caretaker of the dance floor, I proceeded down the school steps and into the rather dark evening. He showed me his old ‘59 Ford, opened the trunk and proceeded to give me a small brown paper bag! Yes, he told me it held a bulb and I was to plant it. After blooming, it would have to be dug up, dried and saved from the winter freezing by storing it inside. It was a Peruvian Daffodil (Hymenocullis festalis).

That spring I planted it along with the Calla Lily bulbs that I had inherited from my mother when she was admitted to the Mabel Green Lea Manor Nursing Home in 1999 until she passed away in 2009. Since then I have planted the Peruvian bulbs for 21 years, which have gradually increased in number along with mother’s Calla Lilies, allowing me to share bulbs with friends. To read more about Calla Lilies see: https://www.gardendesign.com/flowers/calla-lilies.html. 

What is a Peruvian Daffodil? Their white star-like beauty is worth the effort in in the care and planting them. Yes, they are beautiful to behold. Visit www.terraceiafarms.com to learn more about the Hymenocallis (Peruvian Daffodil).

A few specifics regarding the Peruvian Daffodil:

1. Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade.

2. Planting depth: 3-4 inches, place about 8 inches apart.

3. Plant in a row or small groups of 3 or more.

4. May plant more groupings every 2 weeks.

5. They bloom in about 6 weeks.

6. May intersperse with other perennials.

7. Plant in zone 3-10 (Northeast Iowa is zone 4).

8. Water bulbs during dry periods, keep soil evenly moist.

9. No watering in fall when foliage dies down for winter.

10. Has attractive foliage after blooming.

11. Dig up bulbs before frost, dry for a few days.

12. Store bulbs in a dry frost-free location.

The white starry-like beauty is worth the effort!

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