Not all paperwhites stink

Yesterday, as I finished up a piece for Fiskars on forced bulbs (bulbs coaxed to bloom indoors during winter) Non-Gardening Best Friend, Aimee, called. Because I was working on an article, we talked of amaryllis, paperwhites and hyacinths. I asked her if I planted an amaryllis for her, would she want it? I am always trying to spread the love of gardening around, and amaryllis are super easy. In her answer, she said something very revealing.

Paperwhites, probably 'Ziva' before I knew better.
Paperwhites, probably ‘Ziva’ before I knew better.

First, she said yes, and then asked, “Do they stink?”

I told her No, most don’t have any scent.

“I don’t want any more paperwhites,” she said, “I grew those once. They stunk.”

“Not all paperwhites stink,” I said, and it sparked a great discussion about Narcissus ssp papyraceus ‘Ziva,’ otherwise known as “Her Stinkiness” and her cousins. ‘Ziva’ is the most common paperwhite daffodil sold in commerce, but it’s not the only one. There are much sweeter smelling varieties like ‘Geranium,’ ‘Inbal,’ ‘Erlicheer‘ and others worth growing. ‘Cheerfulness’ is grand, as is the traditional Chinese sacred lily, with its golden cup, that I grow outside and have also forced.

You don’t need to limit yourself to paperwhites either. Other narcissus, especially the smaller ones used in rock gardens, don’t mind forcing. N. cyclamineus ‘Jack Snipe’ and ‘Jetfire’ can also be grown indoors. You can buy precooled ‘Jetfire’ bulbs from Brent and Becky’s right now, but they will ship after Christmas.

Narcissus Chinese sacred lily and 'Cheerfulness' (yellow strain) planted outside.
Narcissus Chinese sacred lily and ‘Cheerfulness’ (yellow strain) planted outside.

So, it begs the question . . . why don’t we buy other subspecies of paperwhites and other daffodils? Why do we keep springing for stinky ‘Ziva?’ Because, it’s nearly the only one found in every gift pot, on every shelf at box stores and in many nurseries. Where can we find the lovelier paperwhites?

Online at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Old House Gardens, Van Engelen (although you have to look a bit harder), among others. In fact, Old House Gardens has an entire webpage on forcing. Most online retailers are sold out of fall-planted bulbs, but I found a few at American Meadows yesterday. You can still plant paperwhites and amaryllis and enjoy them during winter because neither need chilling. That’s a happy thought isn’t it?

Narcissus 'Jetfire' in a lot of sun. It can be grown indoors too.
Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ in a lot of sun. It can be grown indoors too.

For gardeners, winter is a very long season, and as NGBF, Aimee, says, “Don’t be afraid to spring for the good bulbs. Life is short. Quit buying the cheap stuff from the shelves.”

In other words, friends don’t let friends buy ‘Ziva.’


  1. Les says:

    Am I the only one who actually likes the way ‘Ziva’ smell? Of course I grow them outside, and not on the kitchen window sill.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Les, I love ‘Ziva’ outdoors. She’s just too strong in here, and they don’t like our cold winters . . . if we ever have cold winters again.

  2. Thanks to my sister, I am trying N. ‘Canaliculatus’ this winter. She bought some to plant outdoors, but they aren’t hardy here (Zone 6, I think) and she gave me a few to force. Becky (of B&B bulbs) told me they need to chill for 12-16 weeks. They are miniatures.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oooh Kathy, I can’t wait to hear what you think of it. I believe I grow that narcissus outside. It is a tiny thing, but so sweet. Looking forward to your pics of what it can do indoors.

  3. I have been gardening for many years. I agree with you that growing amaryllis is easy. I grew one for the first time two years ago, added another last year, so now in my basement, waiting during their dormant period, are two amaryllis bulbs in pots. They will stay there til early January when I will bring them upstairs and put them near the window. have a great holiday.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Thomas, thanks for coming over and visiting. I think amaryllis are one of the great joys of winter. They always make me smile when they bloom, and a lot of mine won’t be blooming before Christmas. I’ll enjoy them after the holidays are past.

  4. Carol says:

    I like what you wrote “friends don’t let friends buy ‘Ziva'” So true. You would think someone would market another variety in those boxes and put “This one doesn’t stink” on the box in bright red letters. It would sell like hot cakes!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Carol, I think it would too. I hope people begin to ask for paperwhites other than ‘Ziva.’

  5. Friends have given me paperwhites and yes did they stink…I am not good with forcing bulbs but do like amaryllis…good to know not all paperwhites stink 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, I have ‘Inbal’ blooming right next to me on the kitchen table, and if I get up very close and take a big whiff, then it has quite a scent. However a little further away, it is as sweet as any flower. I’m enjoying it so much. Amaryllis are fun to grow aren’t they?

  6. Randy says:

    I can honestly say I’ve never smelled a flower with an offensive scent. Some may not be as sweet as others, but I find them all delightful in their own special way. I’m still up in the air about the Amaryllis this year. I wish the stores would put out something other than Red Lion, Minerva or Apple Blossom. Those things are planted all over my garden. :0)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Randy, I like the scent of most flowers even lilies. I think it may be our heated air that’s the problem indoors. They just overwhelm my room. I’m with you on the amaryllis available in stores. It’s the same ‘ole, same ‘ole. I wish they’d go out on a limb so to speak and give us something different. Speaking of, have you ever grown ‘La Paz?’

  7. CurtissAnn says:

    I imagine I have Ziva all over my yard. The leaves are already up, reaching for the sky. If this winter stays this warm, they will bloom soon and all the way through until spring, and I adore them. I think ‘stink’ is in the nose of the smeller. So many people hate ligustrum, and I adore it. Maybe I can’t smell stink. 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement on growing bulbs. I would like to get better.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Curtiss Ann, I think ‘Ziva’ works great outside in the warm south. Here, it won’t overwinter though. In the house, it’s just too overpowering for me. Have a great Christmas darling girl.

  8. sandy lawrence says:

    HA! This is so funny. It’s interesting how memories affect or even change our perceptions. I love that earthy smell of ‘Ziva’, and I think the reason I do is because my grandmother gave me paperwhites for Christmas one year in a low McCoy pottery bowl when I was a small child, probably around six years old. They were in water and those marvelous old colored glass swirl marbles for weight. (This was eons ago as I am an old gardener.) My grandparents planted the gardening ‘seed’ in my soul, and what a fabulous lifetime gift – the gift of loving to garden!
    My daughter in law, however, objects to the smell of paperwhites, so I’m glad to know about these other varieties for her. We never stop learning, thank goodness! And thank you!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Sandy, what a wonderful story. Did you keep that McCoy bowl? They’re collectors items now. I’m so glad your grandparents gave you the gift of gardening. I hope I can for my kids too one day. I like the paperwhite smell. I just can’t have it overpowering me inside. 🙂

  9. We at Marlboro promote a Super Paperwhite that has a much milder fragrant.
    These bigger bulbs (19/cm) produce more stems per bulb , bigger blooms and a milder fragrant.
    Remember that some of the other varieties you mentioned require some cooling even if they are precooled. Only the Paperwhite varieties don’t! We cary Ziva, Inball and Super Paperwhites.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jack, thanks for weighing in. I’m excited about a super paperwhite with stronger stems. Also, thanks for making clear about the narcissus that need more cooling. I thought I made it clear, but perhaps not. You’re absolutely right . . . only paperwhites (tazetta types) and amaryllis bulbs don’t need a cooling period.

  10. I have Erlicheer, it is nicely fragranced. Cute cluster of blooms. I don’t know that I can smell the stinky ones…..none of them smell bad to me. I have a yellow paperwhite- N. ‘Grand Soleil d’or’ Mine are coming up in the yard right now.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Janet, I love, love, love, love ‘Erlicheer.’ Can’t believe they’re coming up in your yard right now, but maybe mine are too. Have a great holiday.

  11. Jason says:

    Huh, I grew that variety of paperwhites and never noticed a bad smell. Hope that doesn’t say anything about the state of our house.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jason, I think some people just don’t like the scent. I, for one, like the less scented ones, but I don’t mind the others in somebody else’s home. It’s just that all-day thing that gets to me. Thanks for coming by.

  12. I never thought about their being ‘non stinky’ paperwhites. I learned something new. May give them another try!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh GSS, I hope you do!

  13. Oh, great. I planted Ziva! Dee, please go leave a comment on my new paperwhite post, and send people over here for the Good News! LOL! xoxo

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks Kathryn. I went over and commented on your site. Maybe you like the scent of ‘Ziva.’ Some people really do. Have a beautiful day my friend.

  14. My husband has forbidden me to do paper whites because of the smell. You know I do amaryllis all winter long, but it would be fun to do something else this year along with them. I just might!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kylee, I really like ‘Geranium.’ It’s a favorite, but I’m also trying ‘Inbal’ this year because Brent from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs likes it a lot. I do love amaryllis too, and I can’t wait for the parade to begin. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  15. Dee Nash says:

    Thanks Leslie! I hope it helps.

  16. Leslie says:

    Yes! Spread the word…what a great service this is. I once spent a whole day trying to pin down the odd, almost burning electrical smell. It was, of course, the paperwhites I’d been given.

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