Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snowdrops (1)

These early weeks of 2013 can hardly be allowed to pass without mention of snowdrops. The genus consists of about twenty species, all more or less confined to the east Mediterranean region, especially Turkey. Our own Galanthus nivalis is the most widespread of the snowdrops. My old 1962 copy of Clapham, Tutin and Warburg's "Flora of the British Isles" states that it is "probably native" to Britain but since then opinion has shifted; it is now generally considered to be an introduction to these islands, perhaps arriving during the 16th century. As for our county, Druce, in his "Flora of Northamptonshire", published in 1930, is quite forthright on the matter stating: "Alien...with no pretensions to being indigenous in this county". Having said that, snowdrops are certainly very well established here, especially in orchards, old churchyards and so on. 

I have an equivocal view of them as they are abundant in my garden to the point of being a weed. Clive Stace's "New Flora of the British Isles" states of the species: "Rarely seeding" but my plants seed prolifically and I have to dead-head them in order to remove the seed capsules. I tolerate my snowdrops as the flowers are visited with enthusiasm by early bees, probably largely for the nectar but perhaps taking pollen too. Whether other insects visit the flowers is a moot point ; I have never noted any other species. At the moment they are snug beneath the snow but should begin blooming as soon as the thaw has set in.

The name Galanthus is derived from the Greek, meaning "milk flower"; as for nivalis, it simply means "of snow". Greater Snowdrop Galanthus elwesii, Caucasian Snowdrop G. caucasicus  and Pleated Snowdrop G. plicatus are all naturalised here and there, mostly in the southern counties of England.

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