Wildflower of the Week: Snowdrop

It’s time for the first Wildflower of the Week post of 2021. I may not post one of these every week, especially early in the year when flowers are scarce, butI will post as many as I can.

Here in Northumberland the snowdrops are in full bloom. They are a common wildflower here in the woods and verges, though not a native of Britain. Though previously believed to have been brought here by the Romans, it is now thought that they were introduced here in the 16th Century, The Common Snowdrop (Galantthus invalid) is indigenous across Southern and Eastern Europe to the Middle East.

The plants grow from bulbs, which soon multiply to form large clumps, making them a popular plant for gardens or to be naturalised in parkland. They are one of the first flowers of the year to appear, flowering mostly from January to April, though occasionally as early as November.

The flowers are preceded by strap-like leaves and the flowers hang bell-like, singly or in pairs at the ends of the stalk – the plant grows 7-15 cm high.

The flowers have six white petal-like structures known as tepals. The three inner ones are notched and marked with green, surrounding yellow stamens. The three pure white outer tepals are longer.

The plant is not edible – the bulb is toxic. Extracts of the plant have been used in medicine and one chemical component, galanthamine is being used to help in the treatment of Alzheimers Disease.

The plant symbolises hope (for milder weather to come) and purity and is associated with Candlemas, the religious feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Wildflower of the weekThis gives rise to the alternative name, Candlemas Bells. In Victorian times a superstition grew up that it was unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house – earlier accounts said this would cause milk to sour and eggs to turn bad, or even cause death – such unpleasant connotations for such a pretty flower!

It’s always reassuring to see the drifts of nodding white bells at this time of year, both in our garden and growing wild. Spring is on its way.