Paperwhite Narcissus and December Birthdays

Paperwhite Narcissus grows indoors on stones set in water.
Paperwhite Narcissus displays abundant flowers indoors.
Photo: Pixabay

December birthdays share the month with the anticipation, preparation and celebration of several holidays.  Paperwhite Narcissus is considered the birthday flower for December.

While there are many birthday bouquets to buy at the florist, Narcissus is not available.

If you want a bouquet of December’s birth flower you’ll have to grow your own. There are kits or bags of bulbs to buy although maybe not in time to grow a bouquet for a December birthday.

Holly and Poinsettia are also mentioned as flowers for December birthdays, but Narcissus is listed most often.

The first two are usually related to Christmas traditions which may or may not matter to some.

Birth months throughout history have been celebrated with a special flower to mark the month.  Did the tradition begin with the flower that was in season, the one flower that grew in abundance that month? I’m guessing so.

In different parts of the world, Narcissus grows easily because the climate and soil conditions are just right. In colder areas of the U.S., daffodil, a common name for the narcissus pops out of the ground in spring.

Paperwhite Narcissus or Narcissus tazetta in colder zones, is grown as a forced bulb indoors in November through February or March.

It symbolizes faithfulness.  Maybe it should also symbolize adaptability or being accommodating?

Since December birthdays share the month with many holidays and the birth flower isn’t available, being adaptable goes with having a birthday in December.

Poinsettias are alternative to Narcissus because they are available for sale.
Poinsettias are an alternate flower to give the December birthday person in your life.

About December Birthdays

The closer it is to one of the holidays, the harder it may be for the birthday person to feel special, since most of the month’s focus is on group holidays. One person’s birthday party might seem over the top – too much partying!

Alas! It puts family and friends to the test to prove they care by making sure December birthday-ers feel important.

In my case, my family celebrates Christmas. I know of four people with birthdays in December: my parents, a close friend and me.

Both of my parents have birthdays close to Christmas.

Unfortunately, my Dad is one who felt slighted by having his birthday on the 24th. His memory was of sharing his big day with a brother and sister.

Each of them was allowed to open a Christmas present on his birthday.  I’m guessing it was to keep them happy.  He did not get to open any gifts for himself on their birthdays later in the year.

My family always had a big celebration for him on his day, including his favorite food and drink. Although gone now, I honor his memory with his favorite food, minus the fruitcake with caramel sauce, on Christmas Eve.

Apparently he did like some holiday-specific food for his birthday! And my aunt made a fruitcake and mailed it to him every year in time for his big day.

Mom’s memory of her birthday close to Christmas is one she remembers fondly.  She was told that Santa came early and hung her on the Christmas tree with a big red bow!

Since her day is a few days away from December 25 it’s easier to separate her celebration from that day.  Honoring her birthday is usually lunch or dinner with gifts.

She’s happy that her children remember her day with cards, phone calls and most especially if they can be with her in person.

My best friend from college has a mid-December birthday. Just right! Not too close to either Thanksgiving or Christmas. We send each other humorous or serious cards depending on the mood and/or age that year.

What a relief to share the same number birthday with a friend whose date is ten days after mine!  It’s one of many things we have in common.

My birthday is at the beginning of December, close enough to Thanksgiving that sometimes it was celebrated during that weekend, not the day of.  Family/friends were available then but often not on my exact day.

I imagine there are many who have birthdays they celebrate close to the actual date but not the day of. It’s important to share the event with those who care about us and make us feel special.

For me, Thanksgiving is the beginning of party season and my birthday rolls into a month long celebration ending with New Year’s Eve. It’s a happy time of year for me.

If my gifts were wrapped in holiday paper I don’t remember.  My favorite cake as a child had white coconut frosting and red and white peppermint candy canes on it.

My day is far enough away from Christmas that it feels more like a hint of what’s to come.

Creating traditions using cues from the season at hand makes a birthday unique. Flowers are a part of happiness – making, even if some of us have to grow our birth flower.

How to Grow Narcissus


Native to:  Southern Europe and North Africa

Name refers to:  In Greek mythology, Narcissus falls in love with his reflection in a pool of water. (By contrast, December birthdays don’t have much time for self indulgence – it’s group time!)

Zones:  8-11

Leaves:  Long straps of green stand upright.  

Blooms:  Small, fragrant trumpet shaped flowers.

Height: 8-20 inches depending on the cultivar.

Grows from:   Bulbs.

Grows: Inside as a forced bulb.

Three waterproof pots to grow Paperwhite Narcissus.
Examples of three kinds of waterproof pots for growing Paperwhite Narcissus.

Paperwhite narcissus grows easily indoors in pots filled with stones and water.  Here’s how:


  • Shallow (3-4 inches high) waterproof pot without drainage holes – like glazed ceramic flower pots, coffee cups, glass bowls.
  • Clean gravel or stones.
  • Water.


  • Place 1-2 inches of stones in bottom of pot.
  • Set bulbs on top with flat side resting on stones, top pointy side up.
  • Put some stones around bulbs to keep bulbs in place.
  • Add water just to the bottom of the bulbs.  Caution: don’t let bulbs sit in water as they will rot.
  • Place in a cool sunny window.
  • As green shoots come up rotate the pot slightly every couple of days.  This will keep the shoots growing straight and not bending toward the light.
  • If the leaves and flowers begin to flop over, place a small stake in the center. Tie twine or raffia to the stake. Gather the falling leaves and wrap them in a circle of twine and tie it to the twine itself.

In approximately 2-3 weeks they bloom.  Flowers last about 1-2 weeks.

Some people plant these bulbs in succession to keep the flowers coming. Bulbs planted in succession make the display last throughout winter.

To do this, either divide up the bulbs you bought and save some or buy a couple of packages. Have a few extra waterproof containers ready, as well as clean stones.

Follow the directions above, but plant another pot two weeks after you planted the first set of bulbs. Plant yet another pot two weeks after the second set.

Once bloom time is over plants are finished and unlikely to bloom again. You can throw them out or if organically grown throw them in the compost pile.


Brighten up any room with a cool, sunny window. Their fragrance makes you think spring is here even when it’s cold, gray and nasty outside with six more weeks of winter to go!

December’s not the only month with a lot to do. Activities and celebrations happen all year long. Remeber a birthday in a special way and time of year doesn’t matter. Just don’t make them grow their own birth flower!


Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

NC State Extension