Snowdrop Week: Be a Galanthus Geek

5 Things You May Not Know About Snowdrops:


  1. US military police stationed in the UK during WWII were known as snowdrops because they wore white caps with their green uniforms. They were also turned out with white webbing belts, white gloves and white gaiters, brightening their otherwise drab attire.
  2. Snowdrop bulbs contain an alkaloid called Galantamine, prescribed for people who suffer dementia. Whilst not a cure, it can alleviate memory loss and confusion. Galantamine was discovered about 60 years ago, when a pharmacologist noticed Bulgarian peasant farmers rubbing snowdrop bulbs on their heads to get rid of pain and other ills. I kid you not!
  3. Snowdrops are pollinated by bumble bees, which is why many have a sweet, honeyed scent. Bumble bees will not fly if the temperature is below 10 degrees centigrade, so the snowdrop has adapted accordingly: it’s outer petals only open wide when the mercury rises above 10 degrees, protecting its nectar reserves for its winged visitors.
  4. The Species name ‘Galanthus’ comes from the Greek: ‘Gala’ meaning milk and ‘Anthos’ meaning flower. The common name ‘snowdrop’ is more likely to have derived from the pearl drop earrings worn by women in the 16th and 17th centuries than from snow, which cannot technically form a drop.
  5. Snowdrops are the most heavily traded, wild-collected family of bulbs in the world. Although the whole genus Galanthus is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which restricts international trade, snowdrops are still extensively collected and traded locally. Several European countries have pronounced the snowdrop ‘Near Threatened’, ‘Vulnerable’, or even ‘Critically Endangered’ on their national Red Lists, including Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria. Fortunately our native Galanthus nivalis, considered to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans, is thriving.

Do you know any other fascinating facts about snowdrops? If you do, please let me know!

Above, Galanthus ‘Melanie Broughton’. Below, Galanthus ‘Galatea’

Galanthus 'Melanie Broughton', RHS London Plant and Design Show 2014', Avon Bulbs, RHS Spring Plant and Design Show 2014