One of the first flowers to appear each year the snowdrop brings hope that spring is just around the corner. Native to large parts of Europe and the Middle East the snowdrop’s botanical name is Galanthus, in Greek meaning “gala” for milk (white) and “anthos” for flower.
Cultivated in British gardens since the 16th century the snowdrop was not recorded in the wild until the 1770s when it was found in both Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Yet by many it is considered to be a native wild plant, helped no doubt by the ease with which snowdrops multiply when planted in the right conditions. In no time at all they seem to create wonderful white carpets. So, what are the right conditions?
Snowdrops need a moist soil and liking partial shade they grow best in deciduous woodland, ideally close to a stream or brook. Flowering in January to March there are not many insects about to help with propagation and so the snowdrop multiplies by producing new bulbs as offsets.
When buying snowdrops it is always best to buy them “in the green”, i.e. when they have just finished flowering but still have green leaves. Once bought do plant them quickly before they have chance to dry out.
There are about 20 species of snowdrop with more than 400 varieties. Some bear wonderful names such as Grumpy, Green Tear and Three Ships Come Sailing, the latter flowering just before Christmas.
Although snowdrop bulbs are poisonous to humans it seems that squirrels are immune and can often be spotted rummaging for snowdrops in woodland. The common snowdrop contains a substance called galanthamine which has been approved in some countries for use as a drug in the treatment of injuries to the nervous system and even in the management of Alzheimer’s disease.
So well-loved are snowdrops that enthusiasts even have their own tribe and are known as Galanthophiles! These snowdrop fanciers are global and sometimes pay large sums of money for unusual bulbs to add to their collections. If you are a galanthophile or just enjoy a walk amongst the snowy drifts then a great day out in winter is a visit to a snowdrop garden. One such garden is at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire where 320 varieties of snowdrop are naturalised in 114 acres of land. For details of this garden and others visit the following national trust page
Some people promote snowdrops as being good for cutting but folklore advises against this. With its closeness to the ground and therefore to the dead and with its shroud shaped flower the snowdrop is considered an omen of death if picked and brought indoors. So, let’s leave them outside where they belong and not take any chances. Agreed?