So many snowdrops

Sally Cunningham , 14/02/2018

One of the first things I was asked to record when I started volunteering with Nature’s Calendar in 2003, was the date that I first saw snowdrops flowering, as this is one of the historical links with gardeners of the past. Nature’s Calendar has nearly 100 years’ worth of data for snowdrops with records dating back to 1923.

Snowdrops along a path

Snowdrops along a path (WTML/Alind Srivastava)

I have recorded this event since I first kept a diary, and it takes me back to my childhood; squeezing through a rickety fence to the grounds of a big abandoned house where we played. There were seemingly endless gardens which were carpeted with snowdrops and winter aconites every spring. The house and its grounds are long gone, and have become a housing estate, although a few of the trees are still there. Sadly the two beautiful beeches, one copper and one standard green, which we christened Proud and Stately, and were under covered with so many of the bulbs, were felled early on before the foundations were laid. I did however manage to rescue a handful of the snowdrops, and it’s these double flowered forms that I have been recording for nearly 50 years.


Snowdrops at Anglesey Abbey (Sally Cunningham)


Snowdrops just about to open (Sally Cunningham)

Nowadays, snowdrop fever has spread across UK gardens. The galanthophile (literally, snowdrop lover) fraternity has soared in numbers and bulbs change hands for amazing sums. Looking through a current catalogue £80 per bulb is not uncommon, and snowdrop cultivars run to many pages. Selections are made on flower form, colour of inner petals and of course, flowering time. You can select for cultivars which span November to March. This of course presents recorders with a dilemma on which plants first flowering to note down.

Galanthus nivilais (WTML/ Mark Cresswell)

Close up of cultivated snowdrop

Galanthus elwesii (Sally Cunningham)

Galanthus elwesii is one of the earliest and can always be distinguished by its large flowers, tall habit and only having two bluish green leaves per bulb, although this is hard to tell in a dense clump. The nearly native or naturalised snowdrop is generally G. nivilais, which is shorter, dumpier in flower shape, with several grey green leaves from each bulb. This is the species that is needed for Nature’s Calendar recording purposes, help build a picture of how our native plants are reacting to a changing climate and if you haven't already let us know the exact date you first saw snowdrops opening. Recording snowdrops is so important because if they appear particularly early, this could indicate an early spring, which in turn will have an effect on other species.

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