Humble Beginnings Nature's New Life Begins with the Snowdrop
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.
" SHINING WHITE AND VEINED WITH GREEN,
YOU HANG YOUR LITTLE HEADS
A VISION OF SWEET SIMPLICITY,
IN FROST BOUND FLOWER BEDS"
A New Cycle
The above words from a poem by K.O. Farrel called Snowdrops served to remind me that even in the grip of winter, nature's new cycle of life has begun. As far as the flora is concerned things may appear to be bleak at the first glance but signs of humble beginnings are starting to be revealed.
The snowdrop is one of the first of our flowers to face the new year. In archaic herbals it was referred to as a bulbous violet and it was not until the writings of Gerard the 15th century herbalist that the name snowdrop appeared.
The botanical names relate to the colour and its early flowering habit.The genus name of Galanthus derives from two Greek names gala meaning milk and anthos meaning a flower. The species name of nivalis alludes to snow.
Although not native to Britain it is now well established and welcomed part of our flora. They have always been a cottage garden favourite and bulbs were passed on from one cottage garden to another as their popularity increased.
The plant is a bulbous perennial which begins its growth in winter sometimes beneath the bitter snow. Rising up from the bulb is the blue-green fleshy leaves and flower buds to pierce the surface. The point of the leaves that protect the flower head are thickened and tough enabling the palnt to pierce through the hard surface of winter.
The slightly scented flower emerges from between a pair of leaves, nodding at the end of slender stalks which are up to 6-8 inches long. The flower comprises of two sets of three segments, the larger outer set spreads widely responding to any sun shine. The inner set form a loose cup or tube. Each of these inner segments are marked with an inverted green V near the notched tips. They have yellow anthers.
The main propagation method for the plant in the UK. is by offsets or bulblets from the original bulb.
There are many cultivated varieties available to the gardener and they are usually sold in " the green" as opposed to bulbs or seeds. The common snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis a recommended variety is "S. Arnott" which bears larger flowers. There is a double form " Flore Pleno" with globular flowers. The Giant snowdrop G. elwesii, has a bit of a misleading name, for although they grow taller the flowers are no larger than either G.nivalis or "S.Arnott"
Divide mature clumps immediately after flowering and replant at once. Snowdrops should not be mistaken for snowflakes which are an entirely different species.