As the days grow longer, Spring is on its way. And one of the first flowers to welcome in the new year is the Snowdrop. Native to Europe and the Middle East, they were probably introduced to UK in the late 1550s.
Mentioned by John Gerard in his Herball of 1597, he confusingly lists them under Leucoium Bulbosum praecox, Timely flowring [sic] Bulbus violet. He goes on: ‘a small and tender stalke, of two hands high; at the top whereof commeth foorth of a skinnie hood, a small white flower of the bignesse of a violet, compact of sixe leaves…tipped at the points with a light greene; the smaller leaves are not so white as the outermost great leaves.’ Gerard describes them ‘cherished in gardens for the beautie and rareness of the flowers, and sweetness of their smell’. [The genus Leucojum now applies to the Snowflake plant although both Leucojum and Galanthus belong to the Amaryllidaceae family]
In 1753, Carl Linnaeus classified the Snowdrop under the genus Galanthus – ‘Gala’ from the Greek for milk, ‘anthos’ for flower – while he named the species ‘nivalis’ for snow. But it is not until the eighteenth century that Snowdrops can be found growing wild in Britain. William Hudson in Flora Anglia of 1778 mentions Snowdrops growing ‘in meadows and towards hedges; commonly in orchards and in counties Westmoreland, Cumberland, Lancaster, Gloucestershire [with apologies to Latin scholars for my poor translating skills].
The Snowdrop also has medicinal uses. The Ancient Greeks noted its mind-altering qualities while today it is used in over 70 countries including Britain, in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
There are about 20 known species of Snowdrop, with Galanthus nivalis, Galanthus elwesii and Galanthus plicatus, being the most common.
Several gardens are going to be open for the Snowdrop Season this year but restrictions will apply with only locals encouraged to visit. For many gardens, you will need to buy tickets in advance. Please note these guidelines could change at the last minute so check the garden’s website on the day of your visit.
Find a list of the best gardens to visit to see snowdrops under the ‘Gardens’ section.