1176 Galanthus nivalisCommon Names: common snowdrop Family: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis Family)
Common snowdrops is a pretty little end-of-winter perennial that grows from a bulb about a half inch (1.5 cm) across. In late winter the bulb sends up just two semi-erect strap shaped leaves about 3-6 in (7.5-15 cm) long and only a quarter inch (6 mm) wide. At the same time a slender flower stalk supporting a small nodding flower emerges from between the leaves. The honey scented flower is about an inch (2.5 cm) across and pear shaped, with three pure white outer petals and three similar but smaller inner sepals that have green V-shaped markings. Like the similar (but misnamed) summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), common snowdrops goes dormant in summer, losing its leaves and flowers, and leaving the gardener wondering where the bulb is. The snowflakes (Leucojum) differ from the snowdrops (Galanthus) in being larger, having several flowers per plant and having all six tepals equal in size.
Several selections of common snowdrop have been named including 'Flore Pleno' which is quite robust and has double flowers; 'Lady Elphinstone' which has double flowers and yellow, instead of green, markings on the inner tepals; and several with green markings on the outer as well as the inner tepals.
Galanthus nivalis is native to Europe extending from the Pyrenees to Russia. It grows commonly in moist meadows within open woodlands, often in mountain valleys.
CultureSnowdrops are very easy to grow and do best under cool, moist conditions in dappled shade. Light: Common snowdrops does best in partial or dappled shade in winter and spring. It doesn't matter where the sun is in summer when the plant is dormant and without leaves. Common snowdrop tolerates full sun in the coldest locations. Moisture: These pretty little members of the amaryllis family like a moist, but well drained soil. Give them a little more water during the late winter growing season and less during the dormant summer period, but the soil should never dry out excessively, even in summer. In their native range, snowdrops get lots of moisture during their late winter and early spring blooming period from melting snow. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 7. Snowdrops like a cool climate and probably will not persist long in zone 7. Propagation: Snowdrop bulbs continuously produce offsets bulbs which may be separated and planted out to produce more plants. Dig bulbs immediately after flowering and replant 3-4 in (7-10 cm) deep right away while they are still moist. Don't let the bulbs dry out. Alternatively, you can dig bulbs (if you can find them) in late summer when they are dormant and naturally dry. Seeds, which probably will not come true, can be planted as soon as they are ripe. It will take about four years before their first flowering.
Snowdrops are excellent for naturalizing in grassy or woodland settings. Among the easiest of bulbous perennials to grow, snowdrops require very little care and under ideal conditions will quickly expand their coverage. Snowdrops are small and look best in drifts and masses. They also are a good addition to a rock garden. Some people use snowdrops to form borders or edges, but we think they look best in drifts across the lawn. Since they are actively photosynthesizing in late winter and early spring, but dormant in summer, snowdrops are particularly well suited to growing under and around deciduous trees and shrubs.
Snowdrops are best in cool climates. For a similar flower in the South, choose the related summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), which (despite its name) also blooms in late winter with dainty nodding white flowers.
There are about 14 species in the genus Galanthus, all native to Europe or Asia. Several species are cultivated in Europe; fewer in North America. Snowdrops often emerge before all the snow has disappeared, sometimes actually piercing through the snow. They must surely gladden the hearts of the winter-weary.
Some people can get a skin irritation from contact with the bulbs and all parts of Galanthus are mildly toxic if ingested.
Steve Christman 3/10/13