Snowdrop flowers, snowdrop bulbs and snowdrops in the green … it almost sounds like the first line of a poem from one of the Lakeland Poets.
Snowdrops, known botanically as Galanthus, are a member of the Amaryllis family.
Galanthus is from the Greek ‘gala’, meaning “milk”, and ‘anthos’, meaning “flower”. This of course alludes to the colour of the snowdrop flowers. The common epithet nivalis means “of the snow”, hence Galanthus nivalis, common name snowdrop.
Galanthus flowers have some specific terminology. There are no petals per se; the flower is composed of six tepals, which look like petals but can’t be differentiated as being specifically a petal or a sepal; hence ‘tepal’.
The snowdrop flower is native to parts of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean region. Some Galanthus species contain galantamine, a compound used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease; helpful but not a cure.
The genus Galanthus consists of 20 to 30 different species of snowdrop bulbs growing throughout Europe and into Asia Minor.
Of these species, four have become widespread and available to gardeners, either as species snowdrop or a hybrid snowdrop. These are, Galanthus nivalis, common snowdrop; Galanthus elwesii, the giant snowdrop; Galanthus plicatus, Crimean snowdrop; and Galanthus gracilis, the slender snowdrop.
Snowdrop bulbs can be slow to reproduce themselves, so clumps may take many years to establish. This helps to explain the cost of some of the rarer snowdrop flowers. Snowdrops are generally propagated by the careful division of clumps when they are in full growth – known as ‘snowdrops in the green’. Certainly for amateur or less experienced gardeners this is the most reliable method of increasing your own stock of snowdrops.
Most snowdrops flower during winter, specifically before the vernal equinox (late March in the northern hemisphere).
Some of my favourite Snowdrop Flowers
Long since naturalised in Britain, this small snowdrop is of course a favourite. Peeping through the snow, looking angelic next to cheerful yellow Eranthis hyemalis, (winter aconite) another woodland winter flower or contrasting with dark purple heuchera.
Is a late flowering snowdrop flower, is a hybrid. Discovered in Beth Chatto’s woodland garden in the 1990s and named after J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lady of the Wood”, Galadriel, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The outer petals are greatly elongated, almost great tusks, hence the snowdrop’s name of ‘walrus’. A rare snowdrop bulb, as although known for over forty years, it is slow to establish and slow to increase in size.
Galanthus ‘Blewbury tart’
Sometimes Galanthus ‘Blueberry tart’, this snowdrop’s name is rightfully Galanthus nivalis ‘Blewbury tart’ as it named after the town where it was found.
A double flowered Galanthus, some people feel it looks like a snowdrop flower having a ‘bad hair day’, but I think it’s pretty. The white tepals are marked with both yellow and green and the inner tepals are doubled and redoubled, like layers of stiff taffeta petticoat.
Galanthus plicatus ‘Wendy’s gold’
This snowdrop was first found near Wandlebury Ring, an Iron age fort near Cambridge in 1973.
The yellow colour develops best when the plant is left alone to clump, and is most noticeable on the ovaries at the base of the tepals. The foliage has an olive-yellow tinge to it, different to the more usual blue-green snowdrop foliage.
Galanthus ‘Robin Hood’
A hybrid between Galanthus elwesii and Galanthus plicatus, this large snowdrop has distinct markings and is easy to grow.
Galanthus do well in a variety of soils that are not waterlogged (like most bulbs). Where the soil is likely to be waterlogged over the winter, growing them in containers or raised beds would be an idea. As for where to plant them, even though they have reputation as shade plants, snowdrops are for the most part happy to grow and flower in full sun, part shade or lots of shade. If you grow them in raised beds, you may find it easier to bend down and enjoy the delicate honey fragrance of the snowdrop flowers.
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Plews in the Media – Marie’s photograph of snowdrops in the snow at Churchill’s home was included in the National Trust 2014 Chartwell calendar
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