What Are Paperwhites?

Melanie Smeltzer

Paperwhites are a species of fragrant, bulbous, perennial plant that belongs to the Narcissus genus and Amaryllidaceae family. These tall, erect plants, sometimes referred to as Narcissus papyraceus, are native to regions of Asia and Europe but are grown indoors and in warm outdoor climates all around the world. They are typically made up of white blossoms; however, some varieties also come in orange, yellow, or a combination of hues.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Like their close cousin, the daffodil, paperwhites bear tube-like cups at the center of their blossoms, which are surrounded by delicate petals and blue-gray foliage. These small, star-shaped blossoms grow in large bunches atop slender, light-green stems that can reach 11 inches (30 cm) to 1.4 feet (45 cm) in height. The color of these flowers can vary, depending upon the variety. For instance, the Chinese Sacred Lily bears white petals and a yellow cup, the Grand Soleil D'Or has yellow petals and an orange cup, while the very popular Ziva variety is made up entirely of a bright, white hue.

Regardless of the variety, paperwhites are very popular plants because of their noticeable and often enticing scent. In addition, growing these plants has become something of a winter pastime for many, as they are considered easy to force into bloom without chilling the bulbs. The simple process of growing paperwhites indoors begins with filling a shallow bowl with decorative or plain stones and placing several bulbs in an upright position between the stones. After that, just enough water should be added to cover the bottoms of the bulbs, and the bowl should be placed in a shaded area. Within two weeks, roots should begin to develop, and the bulb can be transplanted into soil, where it will take four to six weeks to begin blooming.

Growing this plant outdoors is also thought to be easy, provided the location is warm during the planting season. Since these plants grow from bulbs, which provide an ample amount of food storage, no fertilizer is required; however, using a small amount will help the bulb take in more energy for the following growing season. Paperwhites should be planted in a bright location, as they grow their best in warmth although they can also tolerate partial shade. Soil should be well drained to prevent decay or mold growth, and can be made up of peat moss, decomposed manure, or ground bark.

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