Image‘Hope of spring’, the first  Snowdrop seems to say, as it pops it’s small white flowers above what is pretty much a garden of bare earth and dead stems.

The botanical name for the genus is Galanthus from the greek for ‘milk’ (gala) and ‘flower’ (anthos). It’s a small genus of about 20 species of bulbous herbaceous plants native across much of Europe. Most flower in winter, before the vernal equinox, but certain species flower in early spring and late autumn. This year the mild start to 2013 has encouraged early flowering in some areas.

The Snowdrop is perennial bulb which contains an active substance called Galantamine– this is also found in Narcissi- and is helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The Common Snowdrop also contains another active substance called Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA) which has been used to genetically modify potatoes, but this has caused some controversy. In 1998 a scientist called Pusztai claimed that the modified potatoes caused damage to the intestines and immune systems of rats.

There are numerous single- and double-flowered cultivars of Galanthus nivalis, and also of several other Galanthus species. Some of the better known species are:

  • G. byzantinus- ‘Byzantine’
  • G. plicatus- ‘folded’ referring to the leaves
  • G. elwesii– after ‘Elwes’, a botanist and author
  • G. nivalis– ‘snowy’- the Common Snowdrop


An important feature which helps to distinguish between different species (and to help to determine the parentage of hybrids) is their ‘vernation’ (the arrangement of the emerging leaves relative to each other). This can be “applanate”, “supervolute” or “explicative”. In applanate vernation the two leaf blades are pressed flat to each other within the bud and as they emerge; explicative leaves are also pressed flat against each other, but the edges of the leaves are folded back or sometimes rolled (as in G. plicatus) ; in supervolute plants one leaf is tightly clasped around the other within the bud and generally remains at the point where the leaves emerge from the soil.


‘Snowdrops’ – US miltary style

“Snowdrops” was the nickname that, during the 2nd World War, the British gave to the U.S. Army’s Military Police based in the U.K. – because they wore a white helmet, gloves, gaiters, and belt against their olive drab uniform.

A ‘Galantophile’  is a snowdrop enthusiast, including authors of snowdrop books, cultivators, collectors or those displaying Snowdrops. Well known ‘Galanthophiles’ are the horticulturalist E.A. Bowles and nurseryman James Allen . Modern day Galanthophiles are of all ages and visit the many gardens open to the public which feature large naturalised plantings of Snowdrops.

Sources and other information:


Royal Horticultural Society

Royal Horticultural Society- book

Galanthus mania

The world’s most expensive Galanthus bulb



Two more crytpic clues to plants, fruit or veg:

  • Morissey’s mother’s mother
  • Someone who is out to get you

Old School Gardener