Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Spring Snowflake/Dorothealilje

Leucojum vernum

The woods rejoic'd the day
Thro gentle showers, the laughing flowers
In double pride were gay.
Robert Burns

The snowflakes are native to central and southern Europe, but they have been introduced and have naturalized in many other areas. They have narrow, strap-like, dark green leaves. The flowers are small and bell-shaped, white with a green (or occasionally yellow) spot at the end of each tepal. They have a slight fragrance. It flowers one or two weeks later than the snowdrops, i.e., from mid-February to March, as soon as the snow melts in its wild habitat. The flowers remind about the snowdrop's flowers.

The Latin name for Spring Snowflake is Leucojum vernum. Leucojum comes from the Greek word leukos, meaning white and ion, meaning violet. In fact it has a pleasant scent reminiscing of violets. Vernum means spring blooming.

The Danish name Dorothealilje was given the flower from a young girl, Dorothea, who suffered martyrdom in the year 387 in Asia Minor. She was a Christian and wasn't able to marry a heathen who proposed to her. She turned him down and he killed her. Where her blood fell, the beautiful 'Dorothealilje' grew up. Another legend says that when Dorothea was killed, an Angel came from the sky with his arms full of Dorothea-lilies - and this made such an impression on the rejected suitor that he became a Christian himself. On February 6th is St. Dorotheas Day, and at this time of the year the flower was blooming in South Europe.

In the Birgittine convents this flower had a special significance and it was to be found in large amounts in their gardens. The Birgittine nuns brought the plant to the North, and it was probably introduced in Denmark shortly after 1416, when Maribo Convent was established by the Birgittiner nuns from Vadstena in Sweden.

Leucojum aestivum (Summer snowflake) has a wider natural range, taking in Europe (including the British Isles), southwest Asia and northern Iran, and growing in wetter habitats including damp woodland, riversides and swamps. Despite its common name it flowers from April to May, though later than the Spring Snowflake.

photo Mindeparken, Århus 120308: grethe bachmann.

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