Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Snowdrop's big brother

The snowdrops have ceased flowering, leaving fat capsules of seeds to be tediously removed if the species isn't to take over the garden completely. "Rarely seeding" states Clive Stace in his "New Flora of the British Isles"; he must be joking! 

Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, in the garden
of Oliver Tynan. Byfield, 7 May, 2013

Snowdrops are exceedingly common - and not really a favourite plant of mine. Far less commonly grown are the Snowflakes. Despite being placed in a separate genus they are closely related, being in the same subfamily of the Amaryllidaceae Family. There are two species native to Britain, the more familiar one being Leucojum aestivum, known as the Summer Snowflake. It is found in damp meadows, mainly in the Thames valley, where it often grows among willows. In similar conditions it grows in the grounds of Castle Ashby House and at Kelmarsh Hall, but these are deliberate plantings. Two subspecies have been recognised: ssp aestivum and ssp pulchellum, but these may merely be forms - not meriting the status of subspecies. The species is native across southern Europe as far as the Caucasus.

Clearly distinct is our second species, the Spring Snowflake Leucojum vernum. Though generally regarded as native to Britain there must be a question mark against it. Certainly it grows in "natural" conditions in Somerset and Dorset but it may be a long-established introduction (as indeed may the Snowdrop).

Both are quite garden-worthy plants and should be seen more often. They like damp conditions and for my friend Oliver Tynan his damp lawn seems to suit them very well.

Summer Snowflake, again in Oliver's garden.
1 April, 2014
Leucojum vernum usually bears only one, occasionally two, on each flowering stem. The cluster of flowers shown here make it clear that the species is Leucojum aestivum.

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