By now many gardeners would be distraught if they found snow in their gardens, however, maybe finding snowdrops wouldn’t be so bad. The common snowdrop is often the very first to be found, and can even flower in winter before the vernal equinox (March 21). In Black Hawk County it was in full bloom by mid-March of this year–weeks before the crocus popped.
Galanthus nivalis is a perennial herbaceous plant which grows from
bulbs. Each bulb usually produces just two or three linear leaves and an erect leafless scape (flowering stalk) from which the solitary white lobed flower hangs. The leaves die back a few weeks after the flower has faded. The genus Galanthus comes from the Greek: gála “milk”, ánthos “flower,” and this bloom is often compared to three hanging drops of milk. The species name nivalis is from Latin, meaning resembling snow. It is from the same family as Amaryllis: Amaryllidaceae.
This small plant is native to a large area of Europe and was believed to have been introduced into England in the early 16th century by monks who planted them in churchyards. These flowers naturalize easily, and a planting can be dramatic and last a lifetime. Another benefit: like other members of the Amaryllis family, they are normally avoided by deer and rodents. They prefer moist humus-rich soils and can thrive in sun or shade. They do well in rock gardens, under trees or in front of flowering shrubs, or can be planted right in the lawn as they should disappear by the time we Iowans need to mow.
Many legends surround this little flower. A favorite from Germany is that when God was making all things on earth, he asked the snow to go to the flowers to get a little color from them. One by one, the flowers refused. Very sad, the snow then asked the snowdrop, and she generously agreed to share. As a reward, the snow lets the snowdrop bloom first each year. The snowdrop symbolizes purity and hope in the language of flowers.