Gardeners Dictionary (1724)
Philip Miller

Narcissus of Japan

This is the most beautiful of all the Tribe of Narcissus's.

Of these Plants Mons. Liger reckons three sorts, which he describes as follows.

The first Sort from its Bulb shoots forth a smooth Stem about a Foot and a half high, as thick as one's little Finger; at the End of this grows a Sort of Sheath, which when it blows produces several Cups each sustaining a Flower like a Lily, composed of six radiated crooked Leaves, each supported by a large Stalk of a yellowish red Colour, in the middle of these Flowers grows six Pivots, which at the Top bear Stamina's of a red Colour falling into the Shape of a Penthouse. They flower towards the latter End of May or Beginning of June; when the Flower is fallen two or three Leaves arise from their Bulbs, something like those of the DayLily, but larger and greener, and marked with little red Spots.

The second Sort is a greater Rarity than the first, it is also shaped like a Lily, the Flower Leaves stretch out further and decline less, it bears more Flowers than the first Sort, in Colour white and red; the Flower is infolded with a Cover, composed of white Membranes which discover the flower Leaves as they open, which are reddish, resembling a Bunch of Feathers, which when they are thoroughly blown, look like a Marygold of a soft red and pale at the Bottom, both within and without; these Flowers blow in September. Out of the middle of these Flowers arise six unequal Plants, at the Top of which grow Stamina's, like Saffron, of a red Colour, falling down like the Tops of Fennel.

The third Sort differs little from the former, except that it is a brighter red, and the flowers neither so many, nor so large, the Roots of it being smaller.

These Plants are increased by Bulbs, which are better managed in Pots than in plain Ground, for the Conveniency of giving it as sunny an Exposure as is requisite for the blowing of the Flowers; these Pots should be filled with a very light Earth, viz. two thirds of red Mould and one of common Earth well fitted.


These descriptions were translated from French, which may account for some of the odd descriptive words. "Cup" might be "calice", which is a calyx. This is not helpful. Or it could be "tasse", and refer to the demitasse-shaped germen beneath the flower. "Penthouse" seems to refer to a sloping structure: a canopy over a door or a lean-to. "Large", in English, is either from the French "large" or "grand". "Larger" would then be either longer or broader. "Greener" suggests a darker shade. "Marygold" presumably refers to a Calendula, which is not an obvious choice for comparison. "Brighter red" may mean "clearer", "paler" or "more brilliant"; and "rouge" or "vermeille" could be intended.

In 1724 the Julian calendar was still recognized in England, though France had previously adopted the Gregorian. The bloomtime for the supposed Guernsey Lily #3 as given here must be according to the French original since it agrees with the bloomtime for that plant as recorded in later editions of the Gardeners Dictionary.

"Lily shaped" covers a variety of forms. The common lilies included Lilium candidum and several Martagons or "Turkscaps", as well as the Daylilies

I take it that "radiated crooked Leaves" here indicates the recurved petals of a Turkscap lily. These plants might then include (#1) a scarlet, June-flowering plant with 2 or 3 broad (or long) leaves, (#2) Lycoris radiata and (#3) Nerine sarniensis.

It is not clear whether the "yellowish red Colour" of #1 refers to the flowers or the stems, though I assume the former. This would indicate scarlet or orange. In 1768 Miller compared the African Scarlet Lily to the Guernsey Lily in form, but noted that it did not often bloom in England.

Hortus Nitidissimis includes a light red and white "Japan Lily-Daffodil". This might be the "Red Flowering Narcissus from China" sent by Peter Collinson to Jakob Trew in 1746, which is probably Lycoris radiata. It is worth noting that Linnaeus listed Kaempfer's Japanese plant in his description of the Guernsey lily in Hortus Cliffortianus, which explains why Collinson thought the plant was a "nondescript."

Since Miller published Liger's descriptions, we need not assume that all three plants were grown in England in 1724.

I have since acquired the 1706 translation, which is far clearer. "Penthouse" is translated as "Pendant", and the "radiated crooked leaves" are "streak'd, bent backwards".