Snowdrop Week: Be a Galanthus Geek

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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

Categories: Bulbs, Flowers, Musings, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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11 comments On "Snowdrop Week: Be a Galanthus Geek"

  1. Thx interesting. Not such a big ‘thing’ here, although I have quite a few floats in the garden. Daffs and tulips more popular. And… Big excitement here…. We have a stand at the Melbourne international flower and garden in March!!! Our chelsea…. Well, sort of, I am using the comparison use very loosely…..

  2. Yes…we are very excited 25th-29thMarch. It is rated in the top 5 in the world but it is nowhere near as grand as chelsea. Only a few show gardens. Promise lots of pics plus our little retail stand too. Foot traffic is about 110,000 but is general public as there is no RHS here and it is run by IMG. Will be fun. The venue is magnificent as it is held in the exhibition building gardens. You would love the old building, it is beautiful. Hope the weather is good otherwise not sure I will be loving a tent for 5 days!!!xxx

  3. My favourite fact about snowdrops is that they’re seen as a harbinger of spring, and I like the myths and legends surrounding them like the one about Eve and the angel.

    “When the first winter lay white upon the earth, Eve sorely missed the beautiful things of the fields. An angel who pitied her seized a flake of the driving snow and, breathing on it, bade it live, for her delight. It fell to the earth a flower, which Eve caught to her breast with gladness, for not only did it break the spell of winter, but it carried assurance of divine mercy. Hence the flower means consolation and promise.”

    But I’ve enjoyed learning lots more about them here. Thanks 🙂

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