Flower Glossaryflowers

Flower Glossary: Paperwhite

by Grace Bonney

Last weekend we had family over for brunch and I bought a ginormous bunch of paperwhites to decorate the table. True, their smell is not for everyone (especially as they start to die), but I’ve always loved their tall stems and cheerful white blooms. So for this week’s Flower Glossary we’re celebrating one of my favorite cold-weather flowers. I think paperwhites look just as beautiful en masse as they do growing from a single bulb, so if you don’t feel like a bunch, give a single growing bulb a try! xo, grace

Additional Information about the Paperwhite:

  • Full Name: Narcissus papyraceus
  • Growing details: Paperwhite bulbs like bright daylight, but don’t like direct sunlight. Temperatures in the low to mid 60s are ideal. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when most people plant or force bulbs, which take 3-4 weeks to bloom. (Though some varieties can bloom February-March)
  • Varieties: There are several varieties that produce a range of white to nearly orange blooms. The most popular variety, Ziva, has the strongest smell.
  • Size: Stems can grow between 12 and 18 inches in height.
  • Cost: Bulbs are affordable, around $2-$4 a piece. Cut flowers and plants range from $2 per stem to $30 for a full plant.

Photograph by Maxwell Tielman

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  • These things…I love that they bloom in the dead of winter here in Boston, but I think the smell is the most horrifying thing on earth. I had some in my apartment last year and I could not bear it. I ended up throwing them away or tossing them outside. I was wondering why people keep buying them if they smell so repulsive — but I guess it’s in the nose of the beholder! :)

  • I received my Paper Whits for Christmas. They are now starting to bloom. My stems were so tall & straight, but now have started falling over. Did I give them too much water, or not enough? Will they stand up again, or do I need to support them with a stake ?
    Please help.

    • Hi Beverly,

      As a forced bulb, paperwhites bloom once and when the shoots surrounding the stem with the blossom start to fall, you can simply snip them off at the bulb. Eventually the flower on the stem will dry, signaling the end of life.


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