Galanthus, commonly known in cultivation as Snowdrop, is a small genus that consists of approximately 20 species of flowering plants. These adorable flowers are native to a large area of Europe, ranging from Spain through Ukraine. Likewise, they have become widely naturalized in Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, and also regions of North America.
Needless to say that all Galanthus species deserve our attention and appreciation. However, the most popular and widespread ones are Galanthus nivalis plants a.k.a. Snowdrops or common snowdrops. These plants are among the first bulbs to settle in and bloom in spring, forming showy, but delicate carpets of pure white flowers.
Despite their small number of species, Snowdrops come along with hundreds of varieties and hybrids to choose from. Some of the most interesting cultivars include G. elwesii, G. ‘Flore Pleno’, G. nivalis Sandersii Group, G. ‘Primrose Warburg’, G. reginae-olgae, or G. ‘Straffan’.
- A large number of Galanthus cultivars have gained the prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Some of these are ‘Atkinsii’, ‘Flore Pleno’, G. nivalis, Greater Snowdrop, ‘Lady’s Beatrix Stanley’, ‘Magnet’, ‘S. Arnott’, and ‘Wendy’s Gold’.
- Their genus name “Galanthus” comes from the Ancient Greek words “gála” and “ánthos”, meaning “milk” and “flower”. This name refers to their cute, white, milk-like blossoms.
- Galanthus species go by many common names, such as Snowdrops, Milk Flowers, Spring Bulbs, Fair Maids of February, Purification Flowers, Little Sister of the Snows, Common Bells, Candlemas Lily, or Candlemas Bells.
- Snowdrops are very well-known symbols of spring, purity, and religion. They appeared in several literary creations, such as the short story ‘The Snowdrop’ by Hans Christian Andersen.
- There are numerous people called galanthophiles that absolutely love Snowdrops. In some areas around the world, there are also regional events where all galanthophiles can buy bulbs of different Snowdrop varieties.
- The bulbs of Snowdrops are usually highly toxic if ingested. Because of this, not everyone viewed these plants as a good sign. For most Victorians, Snowdrops symbolized death and considered it bad luck to bring them into their home.
- Galanthus plants played a big part in traditional medicine and still do nowadays. They are great treatments against traumatic injuries of the nervous system, improper cerebral function, multiple sclerosis, memory problems, poliomyelitis, chilblains, frostbite, headaches, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
- Snowdrops will look at their best if you plant them en masse in woodlands, rock gardens, moon gardens, border fronts, lawns, or under deciduous trees. The clusters are also suitable for indoor settings in containers.
- While ingesting most parts of Galanthus species may cause mild stomach problems, touching them might irritate the skin. For safety purposes, plant them in a place where your furry buddies or curious children cannot reach them.
Snowdrops Features: An Overview
- All Snowdrop species are herbaceous bulbous perennial plants. The size of these plants is different from one cultivar to another, but they can generally reach from 2.8 to 12 inches (7-30 cm) in height.
- Their foliage consists of two (sometimes three) basal, linear, narrow, strap-shaped to oblanceolate, and light green to silver-grey leaves that emerge in whorls directly from the bulbs. The flowering stalks called scapes are erect, thin, arching, and leafless.
- The blooming season of Snowdrops usually varies depending on the region and weather conditions. While some cultivars bloom in early autumn through extremely early spring, others will produce flowers until late spring in May.
- During their flowering period, most Galanthus species exhibit single blossoms that contain three large outer petals that protect about 3 to 6 smaller inner ones. However, some specimens show off double flowers with many inner petals that resemble petticoats.
- The flowers of Snowdrops are pretty tiny, bell-shaped, delicate, slightly fragrant, and can last for several weeks after blooming. They are mostly white, but some cultivars can also feature shades of green, yellow, golden, light pink, purple, lavender, or blue.
- Snowdrops bear fruits after their blooming period. The fruits are three-celled, fleshy, ellipsoid to almost spherical capsules. They contain oblong, light brown to white seeds that are highly attractive to ants, which distribute them.
- They make for nice-looking companions to many other attractive species of plants including Alpine Squill, Coral Bells, Daffodils, Dog Tooth Violet, Dwarf Iris, Early Crocus, Fragrant Honeysuckle, Glory of the Snow, Hellebore, Persian Violet, Sedum, Snowflake, Winter Aconite, and Witch Hazel.
Snowdrops thrive in environments that simulate the growing conditions from their natural habitat. Because of this, they usually grow at their best in light to moderate shade. However, some cultivars like G. elwesii do well in partial shade, but will also tolerate full sunlight.
In general, Snowdrops will return year after year only if you provide them with low winter temperatures. The ideal temperature values during this season range from -20 to -30 °F (-29 to -34 °C). These flowers are hardy in the USDA zones 3 to 8 and truly dislike the warm winters of some regions. If the climate in your area is mostly warm or hot, it would be wise to pass on adding Snowdrops to your plant family.
Even if Snowdrops are typically carefree in terms of pest infestations and fungal diseases, some issues may occur once in a while. The most common problem that can bother your plants is grey mold. This disease will show its presence through fuzzy grey molds on the leaves and flowers that will spread on the bulbs in severe cases. If you notice any of these signs, the best way to get rid of grey mold is to remove the affected bulbs to prevent any future spread.
If you want your Snowdrops to show the best results, we recommend you plant them in early autumn. Once you manage to get some bulbs, do not wait for too long to plant your tiny specimens. In general, the bulbs will not resist much time without soil, so you should plant yours right after buying them.
Your Snowdrops will benefit from a very specific planting technique. Firstly, you must loosen their future growing medium, then add a 5-10-10 granular fertilizer with some compost or dried manure in it. Secondly, mix the soil until you have no clumps in it.
After this step, plant your Snowdrop bulbs in groups of up to 25 specimens and cover them with two inches (5 cm) of soil. Once the planting process has ended, water the bulbs well to help them settle in their new environment.
When it comes to their growing medium, Snowdrops are not particularly hard to please. These plants prefer to grow in a well-draining substrate that is also fairly rich in hummus. If you are growing your Snowdrops in heavy soil, make sure you add a bit of grit or sharp sand to it to improve the overall drainage.
In case you want your Snowdrops to spread, the best way to do it is by fertilizing them regularly. Feed these plants with a balanced liquid fertilizer once every year in spring and fall. They are not heavy feeders, so fertilizing is not mandatory if you want them to stay the same with time.
While Snowdrops do not need particularly moist soil in cooler climates, they will require more water than usual in warmer conditions. Prolonged periods of drought will affect the overall well-being of your plants. We suggest you water your beloved Snowdrops whenever the soil has dried out completely.
If you live in a region with seldom rainfalls, you will have to water your Snowdrops regularly. Make sure you provide these flowers with drinks until their foliage turns yellow and they become dormant, usually in late spring or early summer. You can also water them with a liquid plant food after blooming to help them strengthen up and get bigger for the next flowering season.
Want more of these beauties in your garden or one of your family members or friends are big Snowdrop lovers? Say no more! Although Snowdrops do not multiply from seed very often, they will produce many offsets that you will be able to use as propagation material. And don’t get scared! No matter how little experience you have in the gardening world, this process will be nothing but a piece of cake.
First things first, you should know that the offsets are those new, clingy bulbs that show up attached to the mother bulb. If you are already growing your Snowdrops for a couple of years, the clump of bulbs has surely become fairly dense. As a general rule, you might want to wait until the flowers of your Snowdrops fade, but the foliage is still all green and vigorous.
Once you notice these particular features on your plants, you can take action. All you have to do is dig the Snowdrop clumps out, separate the young offsets from the mother bulbs, then replant them into their new, permanent locations. See? Much easier than you would have imagined!
Absolutely lovely, delicate, and very low-demanding – an irresistible mix that every gardener should have in its respectable collection. Are you already the happy parent of these flowers? Share your experience in the comment section!