By Amanda Reeves
Snowdrops - a striking bloom in the winter months when little else is growing. They flower between January and March, often appearing en -masse and creating a characteristic ‘white blanket’ coverage. This early flowering is aided by hardened leaf tips that can push through frozen soil. The downside to flowering in winter is that pollinating insects are scarce, so these little drops of snow spread mainly through bulb division.Although formally considered "native", snowdrops are actually recent arrivals. The first known cultivation was in 1597 and was first recorded in the wild in 1778. But snowdrops do produce seeds provided there are pollinators around. Early emerging queen bumblebees will help spread them if the weather is warm and dry enough.By producing their own heat, snowdrops actually melt the snow in their surroundings.
The species has long been associated with winter and their Latin name literally translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’. They thrive in lightly shaded woodland areas and can be found all around the UK.
Legend tells that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, they wondered if the snows of winter would ever end. An angel transformed some of the snowflakes into snowdrops flowers, showing that cold winter eventually gives way to spring.
In modern medicine a naturally occurring substance within the plant, called galantamine, is used to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the bulbs themselves are poisonous; a fact which perhaps leads to the superstition that a single snowdrop bloom in a house represents death.
With their milk-white flowers resembling snow, they are also known as fair maids of February, Mary's tapers, Candlemas bells, white ladies, little sister of the snows, snow piercers, dingle-dangle, flower of hope and death’s flower. In the ‘Language of Flowers’ snowdrops symbolise chastity, consolation, death, friendship in adversity, hope and purity.
The white flowers hang from a single stem with three inner petals (called tepals) curved into a tight pointed oval and three external petals loosely opening outwards. These flower heads can be ‘single’ – one layer of petals – or ‘double’ – multiple layers of petals. Their grass-like foliage is a vibrant light green.
Snowdrops contain a natural anti-freeze and even if they collapse in freezing weather they recover once the temperature rises. Their pollen and nectar is an early spring feast for many bees. The green stripes inside the snowdrops are like landing lights, guiding them to one of the only restaurants open this early in the season.