Acis autumnalis is more commonly referred to as the autumn snowflake, and was originally given the scientific name Leucojum autumnale. The autumn snowflake is a bulbous flowering plant that is most valued for its charming drooping and bell-shaped flowers, which bloom during the late summer and autumn (fall) period and are bound to add color to your garden.
This plant belongs to the Amaryllidaceae botanical family, making it loosely related to daffodils and snowdrops, as well as to chives. Its genus, Acis, counts bulbous flowering plants generally known as snowflakes among its members.
The original plant was named by the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus, but the autumn snowflake was moved to the brand new genus Acis in the nineteenth century. This clump-forming flowering plant will produce a wave of beautiful white flowers on thin stalks during the late summer through late fall, adding life to your garden during a time when most other plants go dormant.
That’s precisely why it is so beloved among European gardeners, though autumn snowflakes are much more rarely seen in the United States, where these fall flowers can be grown in USDA hardiness zones five through nine.
About Autumn Snowflakes
- Acis autumnalis, the autumn snowflake, is a bulbous perennial plant that features elegant long leaves and white flowers with green tips.
- Autumn snowflakes are native to the Mediterranean region, where they naturally stretch from Portugal, Spain and Italy in Europe to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, but they can also be found as far south as Iran.
- Gardeners who are looking for plants that will thrive in shady and moist areas — and who would also love their garden to look that much more lively after the summer has come to an end — would probably love to add this charming plant to their gardens!
- The autumn snowflake was honored with the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, which means that it’s not only appreciated for its beauty, but also for the fact that it can thrive on UK soil, where most other plants with subtropical origins do not do as well.
- It is interesting to note that there has been some controversy around the proper name for this beautiful flowering plant in the scientific community. Initially called Leucojum autumnale as far back as the 1700s (by none other than Carl Linnaeus), the autumn snowflake was later included in a new genus, and renamed (following much debate) to Acis autumnalis. Despite that step, many botanists did not accept the distinction between the two genera, and the autumn snowflake was commonly called “Leucojum autumnale” during the twentieth century. The genus Acis, and therewith also Acis autumnalis, was officially reinstated in 2004 for complex reasons around which not everyone agrees. In practical terms, this means that its bulbs can be sold as either Acis autumnalis or Leucojum autumnale. If you cannot find it under one name, try the other!
- Autumn snowflakes will attract plenty of insect life to your garden, including pollinators. In more temperature regions, recently warming temperatures have meant that the blooming patterns of these plants have also started to change somewhat. UK gardeners have noticed that their autumn snowflakes begin to bloom as early as July, meaning that butterflies have plenty of time to enjoy these plants.
- Although autumn snowflakes are generally a dream to grow and take care of, and can be considered the ultimate low-maintenance plant in the right region, slugs sometimes like to chew away at their leaves, and they can be attacked by narcissus bulb flies, too.
- As with most bulbous plants, it is not a good idea to let pets like cats or dogs munch on autumn snowflakes, which may be poisonous to pets.
Autumn Snowflake Features: An Overview
- Autumn snowflakes are delicate bulbous perennials with elegant leaves and charming white, bell-shaped, flowers that will add color to your garden from mid-summer through late fall if you live in the northern hemisphere.
- These plants are extremely beginner-friendly, requiring very minimal care to thrive. Autumn snowflakes are suited for shady and moist areas that receive a lot of rainfall and these plants will generally do perfectly fine even if you don’t actively get involved in their care.
- Autumn snowflakes can grow to be around four to six inches (10 to 15 centimeters) tall in their mature form. Their elegant and slender stems, each of which will harbor a single flower, grow into a gentle fan-like shape.
- The deciduous leaves of the autumn snowflake are long, thin and hairless with smooth edges. This foliage has a vibrant moss-green color, and resembles large grass.
- The flowers of the autumn snowflake can appear at any time between mid-summer to early fall, depending on your local climate. They have six petals, which droop down like other snowflakes, and have a bell shape. These gentle flowers are white with green tips. If you lift the flowers of the autumn snowflake up, you will discover a bright yellow center.
- When left alone, Acis autumnalis will begin to grow in large clusters, producing numerous flowers and dense foliage.
- The long and thin stems of the autumn snowflake have a green to burgundy color, which extends to the tip of the flowers.
- Because autumn snowflakes prefer moist but well-draining soil types, they can often be seen to be growing in woodlands and along ponds in their native regions. In your garden, you can also plant them in containers if you wish.
- These plants experience a dormant phase during the winter and spring periods, and will not have any active flowers or leaves during this time. If they are not pruned, you will instead see old, brown, foliage. Many gardeners prefer to remove these old leaves.
Growing Autumn Snowflakes
Acis autumnalis is especially popular in West European gardens, including across the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as in its native Mediterranean zones. These flowering plants can also be grown in the more temperature regions of the United States, in hardiness zones five, six, seven, eight, and nine. These versatile plants can be grown in all kinds of lighting conditions. Autumn snowflakes thrive full sun (with six or more hours of direct sunlight a day), as well as in dappled sun (sunlight that shines through a canopy of greenery, like under a tree, for much of the day). Autumn snowflakes also do just fine in partial shade, with no more than two hours of direct sunlight a day, though it does prefer slightly sunnier conditions and may bloom less abundantly in partial shade.
Being hardy to the United Kingdom, these flowering plants can absolutely withstand periods of mild frost during the winter — the time during which they are dormant — without any difficulties. By the same token, autumn snowflakes can thrive in tropical and subtropical regions that never receive any frost.
If you have ever grown any other snowflakes, keep in mind that autumn snowflakes have slightly different soil preferences. Other snowflakes tend to do well with perpetually moist soil types, but Acis autumnalis prefers to be in well-draining soil that does not become soggy. Autumn snowflakes are not, however, picky about the type of soil they are in. They can succeed in rich, loamy, sandy, or even clay soil, and don’t mind acidic, neutral, or alkaline soil. Autumn snowflakes can grow well in coastal gardens.
What’s more, Acis autumnalis does not require a fertilizer program to succeed and proliferate, and does not require pruning, either. However, the plant does begin to lose its vitality of it becomes overcrowded, which can happen if it is allowed to spread through your garden unhindered. In this case, you can carefully remove some of your autumn snowflakes from your garden by their bulbs, which offers the added benefit that you will be able to share these charming plants with others. If you do choose to prune your autumn snowflakes, this should only be done after their foliage has turned brown for the winter.
This plant is fairly resistant to plant diseases and pests, but can sometimes fall victim to slugs and narcissus bulb flies.
Watering Autumn Snowflakes
Autumn snowflakes, or Acis autumnalis, will appreciate environments with plenty of moisture and these plants do require lots of water to stay healthy. Although autumn snowflakes thrive with plenty of moisture, their soil type should be well-draining as these plants don’t like to be waterlogged, unlike other snowflakes.
Gardeners who live in areas that receive plenty of precipitation — like the United Kingdom, for instance — will not generally need to offer supplemental watering to their autumn snowflakes. In warmer climates, your autumn snowflakes will benefit from occasional deep watering, mimicking a natural shower, if you live in a warmer climate, such as in the Mediterranean.
Should your area not have received rain in a while, and is the soil your autumn snowflakes are growing in exceptionally dry, you would be advised to offer the plant some extra water. Otherwise, if the soil is still moist, leave it alone.
Propagating Autumn Snowflake
Autumn snowflakes are fairly easy to propagate, as bulbous plants. If you would like to add autumn snowflakes to new areas in your garden, or you would like to share these charming fall flowers with friends or relatives, you have two basic choices. Acis autumnalis can be propagated through their bulbs, as well as from seed.
If you would like to try the easier method of using the autumn snowflakes’ bulbs to propagate them, you should know that:
- You are safely able to remove mature clumps from your garden, and separate their bulbs, during their dormant periods after the flowers have subsided.
- The bulbs of the autumn snowflake can be stored for longer periods of time, in which case it is best to keep them at a temperature of 68 °F (20 °C), which conveniently corresponds to room temperature.
- The bulbs should be planted in the late summer to allow new plants to begin to grow.
- When you plant the dormant bulbs of the autumn snowflake, take care to place them four inches (10 centimeters) into the ground, gently covering the hole you created with rich soil and tapping it down.
- If the soil is dry, you can water the new bulb until it is evenly moist.
Because this is by far the easier method of propagating Acis autumnalis, it is most popular among gardeners who already have autumn snowflakes in your garden. If you do not, and you cannot find bulbs but are able to buy autumn snowflake seeds, however, you can also try starting these flowering plants from seed. In this case, the seeds can be planted during the summer, fall, or early winter, just below the soil.
Notable Autumn Snowflake Varieties
Gardeners who would like to add variety to their green oasis might like to know that the autumn snowflake has several unique varieties — which can add even more appeal to your garden! These varieties are officially considered not to have variety status any longer, but they retain their distinctive features.
- Acis autumnalis oporantha flowers before the leaves appear, and is originally from the mountainous regions of northern Morocco. The pedicels — the base of the flowers — arches in the middle.
- Acis autumnalis pulchella is also from northern Africa, and this variety of autumn snowflake has gentle pink touches at the base of its flower petals.
Autumn snowflakes — whether called Acis autumnalis or Leucojum autumnale — are wonderfully easy to grow and care for. In most climate conditions, these bulbous plants will essentially take care of themselves, requiring neither supplemental watering nor pruning or fertilizer. These wonderful plants have an excellent chance of succeeding even if you are brand new to gardening.
Once planted, they will surprise you with delicate-looking hardy flowers that can stay with you from July through November, catching butterflies’ attention as well as adding a wild charm to your garden. To top it all off, autumn snowflakes can survive partial shade and frost.