The common snowdrop, or galanthus nivalis is usually the first flower to bloom in late winter. certainly, in the tough winter of 2010, it was the only bloom around for weeks. Where snowdrops have been allowed to grow wild, unchecked, they can spread to form huge carpets of white blooms, and ore often seen as the harbinger of spring.
Tourists flock to these areas where there are carpets of snowdrops, and many stately homes offer snowdrop walks during the late winter (see below for details).
Snowdrops, Moretonhampstead, Dartmoor
The snowdrop is a perennial plant, growing from a small bulb. It's natural habitat is woodland, but it will grow just as happily in domestic gardens. When planting snowdrops it's best to plant them 'in the green,' that is, it's best to buy the plants already in flower and plant these, rather than to buy the bulbs. Planting in the green is much more successful; bulbs tend to go into the soil, never to be seen again!
In late winter, the snowdrop appears as two grey-green linear leaves a few millimetres wide. The plant then pushes up a single stalk, from which emerges the bloom, suspended on a thin pedicel.
The bloom is bell shaped and hangs down from the stalk. It consists of six tepals three outer, larger ones, which us lay folk would assume are the petals (not so) and three inner ones which are much smaller, edged with green and form a tube shape within the flower.
Snowdrops and Spring Flowers
However, technically one describes the flower, they really are very pretty, and a welcome relief from the drab of winter.
There are several types (cultivar) of snowdrop, single flowered, semi-double and double flowered, and goblet shaped. The colour of leaves may vary, as may the markings on the inner tepals, the most common alternative colouring being yellow. I have even heard of someone having pink snowdrops, but I have been unable to track down this cultivar, and suspect it's not a snowdrop at all.
Snowdrop FlowerClick thumbnail to view full-size
Quite honestly, all snowdrops look the same, a snowdrop is a snowdrop, right? Before all you galanthophiles rush down to Devon to lynch me, what I mean is, that often the difference between cultivars is so slight that one almost needs to be a botanist to spot it. OK, the difference between some greens and yellows is easy enough to spot, as is the difference between single and double flowers, but some differentiating factors are very slight.
Snowdrop Carpet, Moretonhampstead, Dartmoor
The National Garden Scheme www.ngs.org.uk has details of snowdrop gardens open to the public. Whilst if you really want to get into spotting the differences between blooms, Brandy Mount,New Arlesford, Hampshire has the National Plant Collection of snowdrops and you can play 'spot the cultivar' to your heart's content www.brandymount.co.uk
Prsonally, I'm happy to just enjoy these wonderful little plants when I stumble accross them out on a walk, or when they push their fragile heads through the cold, damp soil in my garden.