March 4, 2012 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Snowdrops, or Galanthus, are those little white flowers you often see in the early Spring, sometimes poking up from under the snow. At first glance, they're charming, but not terrifically interesting. Galanthophiles of the world think otherwise.

Named Galanthus after the Greek for milk and flower (gala and anthos respectively), they hail from Europe (Galanthus nivalis, the most commonly grown species), the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. In the UK, they're quite popular. Some take it too seriously and have been known to do just about anything to get the galanthus cultivar they want. It probably isn't surprising considering that a single bulb of Galanthus plicatus EA Bowles sold for £357 last year. There are many, many, many cultivars.

For those interested in seeing them, every Spring gardens (UK NGS and Walsingham Abbey; Scottish Snowdrop Festival has 50 sites to visit) are opened for those who wish to see different varieties.

This year in the northeast US, they're out early; and there is at least one garden where you can see them.

For those wishing to learn more, Snowdrops by Bishop, Davis and Grimshaw is the best known book on the subject.

In addition to their decorative purpose, Galanthus caucasicus contain galantamine which, under the commercial name of Razadyne is used to treat Alzheimer's disease.
posted by sciencegeek (15 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You aren't kidding! Out here in the UK there's a mania about these flowers. I haven't been able to figure it out but tts catching enough that when I was walking around in January (29th) and saw some on the side of the road, I excitedly snapped a picture.

Anyways, a nearby garden here Painswick Rococco Garden is also listed in the Great British Gardens list of snowdrop gardens. Though I think theirs are disappearing.

Oh, why do I know all this...
posted by vacapinta at 12:58 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't really explain the mania. The only reasonable explanation I've heard is that they're the only thing blooming in late winter/early spring, so people get excited about them. I'm not a galanthophile - I find the different cultivars difficult to distinguish between unless there are obvious differences, and I can't imagine spending that kind of money on them.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:07 PM on March 4, 2012

I love snowdrops and crocus!

They're magical. It's cold and dark and wet, but out of the dark and snow and the cold come these brave little flowers, gallant harbingers of spring.
posted by winna at 1:15 PM on March 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

At least the prices have not reached the levels of historical tulips prices yet. At what prices will Galanthophiles become Galanthomanics?
posted by francesca too at 1:24 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

A very close friend of mine bought the 10 acre piece of land next to hers, and it came with well over an acre of snowdrops which had spread gradually from the dooryard garden of the original homestead, torn down more than 70 years ago.

Then about 7 years ago, she noticed there were suddenly fewer snowdrops one spring, and was worried about a blight-- until she and her husband caught the owner of a somewhat distant high-end garden store filling the bed of a pick-up with bulbs dug from her field. I urged her to prosecute, but she wouldn't hear of it.

She's been promising to find out for me what variety they are-- probably whatever was popular in the Pacific Northwest more than 100 years ago-- but she hasn't.

I'll have to get after her about it again, and tell her to be vigilant!
posted by jamjam at 1:32 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't they just sort of pop up for a few days then that's it? What do galanthophile's do the rest of the year?
posted by stbalbach at 1:44 PM on March 4, 2012

Weird. They're everywhere around here (Victoria, BC.) We were just noticing that the local grocery store is selling crocus, snowdrops and daffodils, but these grow in pretty much everyone's yard anyway (not to mention in every park, margin and derelict lot) so I can't imagine why people would buy them.
posted by klanawa at 1:45 PM on March 4, 2012

Crocus flowers get blown over by a squirrel's sneeze, all show but little substance, but more flowers will come. Snowdrops are much more robust.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:54 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another highly collectable early spring flower is Adonis Amurensis - the native plant is bright yellow and has this lovely feathery foliage - I'm a big fan, but they're a focal point, not something to have a bunch of in a garden. All sorts of weird cultivars can be found mainly from Japan where they are apparently displayed at the New Years.

Fraser's Thimble Farm has a few.

Hellebores (Lenten Rose) are also popular and there are some pretty elaborate cultivars. They're great because they like dry shade, which is hard to plant things in, and have reasonable foliage after they bloom, killing two horticultural birds with one stone. Speaking of death, they're pretty poisonous.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis, also poisonous), is another brilliant yellow early spring flower; this one doesn't last long. You can use it on a fairly large area though.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:11 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the last episode of Gardener's Question Time - possibly the most irritating programme on Radio 4, which is saying something - there was a wall-punchingly twee question for the experts:

Are snowdrops the first flower of spring, or the last flower of winter?

The resulting discussion was fascinating: people who are so into plants that they get paid to talk about them on the radio think snowdrop-fanciers are completely fucking nuts.

Galanthophiles are the Furries of the gardening world.
posted by jack_mo at 3:59 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Furries of the gardening world? I was gonna post this [self-link, snowdrops] but now I'm not so sure...
posted by moonmilk at 4:17 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

This lyric is about the Shortia galacifolia, but I always think of it when I see snowdrops:

The fairest bloom the mountain know
Is not an iris or a wild rose
But the little flower of which i'll tell
Known as the brave acony bell

Just a simple flower so small and plain
With a pearly hue and a little known name
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
For they know that spring is coming soon

Well it makes its home mid the rocks and the rills
Where the snow lies deep on the windy hills
And it tells the world "why should i wait
This ice and snow is gonna melt away"

And so i'll sing that yellow bird's song
For the troubled times will soon be gone

Acony Bell by Gillian Welch
posted by vitabellosi at 4:50 PM on March 4, 2012

I love snowdrops. There is something special in the quiet magic of the earth waking up again for the spring. Those early flowers make my heart feel full with the promise of the return of life and greenery.
posted by troublewithwolves at 5:06 PM on March 4, 2012

Galantamine is helping out in the fight against Alzheimer's too!

...or helping people try to lucid dream, whichever.
posted by Earthtopus at 10:17 PM on March 4, 2012

oh, last line of the main post. Well done!

(took it for dreaming)

(didn't really work anyway)
posted by Earthtopus at 10:18 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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