Galanthus (Greek gála "milk", ánthos "flower") is a
smal genus of about 20 species of bulbous
herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae.
Most flower in winter, but certain species flower in
early spring and late autumn.
A portent of spring
Celebrated as a sign of spring, snowdrops can form
impressive carpets of white in areas where they are
native or have been naturalised.
All species of Galanthus are perennial, herbaceous plants which grow from bulbs. Propagation is
by offset bulbs, either by careful division of clumps in full growth ("in the green"), or removed when
the plants are dormant, immediately after the leaves have withered; or by seeds sown either when
ripe, or in spring. Professional growers and keen amateurs also use such methods as "twin-
scaling" to increase the stock of choice cultivars quickly. Each bulb general y produces just two or
three linear leaves and an erect, leafless scape (flowering stalk), which bears at the top a pair of
bract-like spathe valves joined by a papery membrane. From between them emerges a solitary,
pendulous, bel -shaped white flower, held on a slender pedicel. The flower has no petals: it
consists of six 'tepals', the outer three being larger and more convex than the inner series. The six
anthers open by pores or short slits. The ovary is three-celled, ripening into a three-celled capsule.
Each whitish seed has a smal , fleshy tail (elaiosome) containing substances attractive to ants,
which distribute the seeds. The leaves die back a few weeks after the flowers have faded.
Medicinal uses
An active substance in snowdrop is called galantamine, which can be helpful in the treatment of
Alzheimer's disease It was suggested by Andreas Plaitakis and Roger Duvoisin in 1983 that the
mysterious magical herb 'moly' that appears in Homer's Odyssey is actual y snowdrop, and could
have acted as an antidote to Circe's
Leaf width
- Narrow (width less than
a little finger nail) is Galanthus nivalis
Broader than a little finger nail is the
rest. Hybrids are intermediate
Leaf colour - Greyish blue-green
(the norm, as in the narrow-leaved G.
nivalis); bright grass green (as in G.
Leaf base - Most species have the
two leaves from each bulb flat and
facing each other like hands in prayer (applanate, as in G. plicatus). In G. elwesii and its hybrids
the base of the outer leaf wraps around and embraces the interior leaf (supervolute or convolute,
left below)
Petal marks - The normal pattern is a single green mark at the open end of the inner petals. This
is typically U-shaped or V-shaped, but a fantastic range of curious patterns is observed.


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