915 Leucojum aestivumCommon Names: summer snowflake, giant snowflake Family: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis Family)
The snowflakes are bulbous perennials with threadlike or straplike leaves and nodding, dainty white flowers. Summer snowflake is misnamed because it actually makes its annual appearance in the late winter or very early spring, along with the daffodils. By midsummer, snowflakes are just memories. The 4-6 leaves of summer snowflake are 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) long and a little less than 1 in (2.5 cm) wide. They grow up and outward from the bulb and bend down in a graceful sweep. The inflorescence of summer snowflake consists of 2-5 bell shaped, mildly fragrant flowers, each about 1 in (2.5 cm) across, nodding from the tip of a hollow scape (flower stalk) that stands just above the leaves. Each flower has six perianth segments or tepals (three sepals and three petals), all of which look about the same. Each snow white tepal has a small emerald green spot near its tip. The popular cultivar, 'Gravetye Giant', is larger and more robust, and has larger, more numerous flowers.
There are about 10 species of snowflakes. Spring snowflake (L. vernum) has broader leaves and shorter flower stalks, and blooms a little earlier in the season. Autumn snowflake (L. autumnale) is smaller with threadlike leaves and blooms in the autumn. L. roseum also blooms in the autumn, but with just one rose colored flower per scape. Mentone snowflake (L. nicaeense) has pink flowers appearing later in the season and is not hardy north of zone 7. The related snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) bloom in the late winter, often piercing the snow; they can be recognized by the dissimilar sizes of their outer and inner tepals; snowdrops do not tolerate hot climates and are grown no further south than zone 7.
The snowflakes are native to North Africa and the Mediterranean region. Summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, has a wide natural range in Europe and western Asia, but is apparently becoming endangered due to overcollecting and loss of habitat.
CultureSummer snowflake is one of the easiest and most carefree naturalizing bulbs you can grow. Light: Summer snowflake prospers in full sun to light shade. Like daffodils, they can be grown under shrubs and trees that are leafless in the late winter and early spring. Moisture: Summer snowflake likes a moist, but well drained soil. It tolerates drought when dormant in the summer, but should have regular watering during its springtime period of flowering and growth. Summer snowflake tolerates clayey, even waterlogged soils, too. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. In zone 9 summer snowflake blooms in late autumn and winter; elsewhere it blooms in the very early spring. Propagation: The bulbs of snowflakes multiply freely and can be divided every 3-5 years. They are best planted in autumn, 2-4 in (5-10.2 cm) deep and spaced about 6 in (15.2 cm) apart.
Like daffodils, snowflakes look best in large clumps. Many gardeners like to plant them underneath deciduous trees and shrubs where they can get plenty of sunlight in late winter and spring. Summer snowflake is a classic old timey bulb, passed between gardeners for centuries. They are often seen persisting in old cemeteries or abandoned homesites. Summer snowflakes have been cultivated as ornamentals in Europe since at least the 1500's.
Southerners should stick with summer snowflake; gardeners from up North can grow spring snowflake and snowdrops.
Steve Christman 3/5/01; updated 10/16/03, 3/10/11