The common snowdrop
) is the best-known representative of a small genus
of about 20 species in the family Amaryllidaceae
that are among the first bulbs to bloom in spring.
Snowdrops should not be confused with their relatives snowflakes, Leucojum species; leucojums are much larger and flower in spring (or early summer, depending on the species), with all six tepals in the flower the same size, though it should be noted that some "poculiform" (goblet- or cup-shaped) Galanthus can have inner segments similar in shape and length to the outer ones.
All species of Galanthus have bulbs, linear leaves, and erect flowering stalks, destitute of leaves but bearing at the top a solitary pendulous bell-shaped flower. Galanthus nivalis grows 15 cm tall, flowering in January or February in the northern temperate zone. The white flower has six tepals, the outer three segments being larger and more convex than the inner series. The inner segments are usually marked with a green, or greenish-yellow, bridge-shaped mark over the small "sinus" (notch) at the tip of each tepal. The six anthers open by pores or short slits. The ovary is three-celled, ripening into a three-celled capsule.
Propagation is by offset bulbs, either by careful division of clumps in full growth ("in the green"), or removed when the plants are dormant, immediately after the leaves have withered; or by seeds sown either when ripe, or in spring. Professional growers and keen amateurs also use such methods as "twin-scaling" to increase the stock of choice cultivars (cultivated varieties) quickly.
Double-flowered forms such as Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Flore Pleno' may be less attractive to the eye of the purist. There are numerous cultivars, single and double, differing particularly in the size and markings of the flower, the period of flowering, and other characteristics of interest to keen (even fanatical) collectors known as "galanthophiles."
Other notable species
- Crimean snowdrop, Galanthus plicatus, 30 cm tall, flowering January/March, white flowers, with broad leaves folded back at the edges
- Giant snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, a native of the Levant, 23 cm tall, flowering January/February, with large flowers, the three inner segments of which often have a much larger and more conspicuous green blotch (or blotches) than the more common kinds
- Galanthus reginae-olgae, from Greece and Sicily, is quite similar in appearance to G. nivalis, but flowers in autumn before the leaves appear. The leaves, which appear in the spring, have a characteristic white stripe on their upper side.
- subsp. vernalis from Sicily, North-Greece and the South of former Yugoslavia, blooms at the end of the winter with developed young leaves.
It was suggested by Duvoisin in 1983 that the mysterious magical herb moly that appears in Homer's Odyssey is actually snowdrop. An active substance in snowdrop is called galantamine, which, as anticholinesterase, could have acted as an antidote to Circe's poisons. Galantamine (or galanthamine) can be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, though it is not a cure; the substance also occurs naturally in daffodils and other narcissi.
Cultivars of Galanthus nivalis
- Galanthus nivalis Poculiformis Group - inner segments are almost same length and shape as outer ones, usually unmarked and without a "sinus" (notch); includes such cultivars as 'Sandhill Gate'
- G. nivalis Sandersii Group - ovary and marks on inner segments are yellow instead of green; includes 'Sandersii' and 'Lutescens'
- G. nivalis Scharlockii Group - "donkey's ears snowdrop" with elongated spathe split down centre, resembling upright ears
- G. nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Blewbury Tart' - curious, untidy, upward- or outward-facing flowers with dark green markings in the centre
- G. nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Flore Pleno' - doubles, usually quite untidy rosettes of extra segments of uneven length
- G. nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Lady Elphinstone' - a version of 'Flore Pleno' with yellowish colouring inside the flowers instead of green; may revert or vary from year to year
- G. nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Pusey Green Tip' - with small green tips to the outer segments
Snowdrop gardens in the UK and Ireland
Celebrated as a sign of spring, snowdrops can form impressive carpets of white in areas where they are native or have been naturalised. These displays may attract large numbers of sightseers. Several gardens open specially in February for visitors to admire the flowers. Sixty gardens took part in Scotland's first Snowdrop Festival (1 Feb–11 March 2007). Notable snowdrop gardens include:
- Anglesey Abbey, Lode, Cambridgeshire
- Bank Hall, Bretherton, Lancashire
- Benington Lordship, Hertfordshire
- Brandy Mount, Alresford, Hampshire
- Cambo Estate, Fife, Scotland
- Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire
- East Lambrook Manor, Somerset
- Easton Lodge, near Little Easton, Essex
- Easton Walled Gardens, near Grantham, Lincolnshire
- Felley Priory, Nottinghamshire
- Finlaystone, Renfrewshire, Scotland
- Kingston Lacey, Dorset
- Hodsock Priory, Nottinghamshire
- Moggerhanger House, Bedfordshire
- Painswick Rococo Gardens, Gloucestershire
- Rodmarton Manor, Gloucestershire
- Walsingham, Norfolk
- Welford Park, Berkshire
- In Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust, Dunstan Thorn and subsequently his son Tristran carry a glass snowdrop that chimes when held. The flower has a very small, but pivotal role in the story.
- In the anime film Twelve Months (Sekai meisaku dowa mori wa ikiteiru in Japan), a greedy queen decrees that a basket of gold coins shall be rewarded to anyone who can bring her galanthus flowers in the dead of winter. A young girl named Anya is sent out during a snow storm by her cruel stepmother and find the spirits of the 12 months of the year, who take pity on her and not only save her from freezing to death, but make it possible for her to gather the flowers even in winter.
- In the manga "Snow Drop" by Choi kyung-ah, Snow Drop was the name of the book that Yo So-Na's mom wrote. The name of the four characters in the manga was taken from that book: So-na, Hae-gi, Ko-mo, Gae-Ri. In this manga, snowdrop represented hope and warmth, because of the legend it carries in Korea.
- Aaron P Davis, The Genus Galanthus, A Botanical Magazine Monograph. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon (in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) ISBN 0-88192-431-8
- Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis, John Grimshaw, SNOWDROPS A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus, Griffin Press, January 2002 (ISBN 0-9541916-0-9)
- Gvaladze GE, Ultrastructural study of Embryo Sac of Galanthus nivalis L. in: Fertilization and embryogenesis, Bratislava, 1983
- Gvaladze GE, Akhalkatsi MSh, Ultrastructure of autumn and spring Embryo Sac of Galanthus nivalis L. in Annales Scientifiques de l'Universite de Reims Champagne-Ardenne et de l'A.R.E.R.S., 1988, Numero 23
- Plaitakis A, Duvoisin RC, Homer's moly identified as Galanthus nivalis L.: physiologic antidote to stramonium poisoning. Clin Neuropharmacol. 1983 Mar; 6(1):1-5. Abstract