Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Common Snowdrop / Almindelig Vintergæk

Galanthus nivalis

Snowdrop, (Danish Vintergæk), was named the Morning Star among winter flowers. It arrives early, trickeling up through the snow already in February or even before if the winter is mild. But it is a flower of the cold winter months, it has gone before spring takes a serious hold.

Snowdrop is a low bulp-plant, ab. 10-20 cm high. The yellow-green shoots are the first showing above the soil. In the shoot are both two leaves and one flower. The white bell-shaped flowers last about one month, but there might be flowers from February till April dependent on the course of winter and the placement of the bulbs in the garden.

Snowdrop thrives best in moist, nutrient-rich humus, where it comes back year after year. If the bulbs are in the lawn, it is important that they are allowed to die down, before the lawn is mowed the first time or else the bulb cannot gather enough nourishment till next year. The fastest way to grow new snowdrops is to have a lump of bulbs from friends or family. It is easy to move the lump with flowers, if they are moved in a whole lump and plant in the same depth. Or of course buy bulbs and put them in the soil in 5-10 cm's depth during autumn.

Snowdrop is propagated from seed or sidebulbs. That's why a group of snowdrops grow bigger each year. After they have ceased to flower they can be increased in numbers when dividing the bulbs carefully, and since they do not endure drying they have to be plant the same day. If sidebulbs are placed in the garden in various places it takes two years before they are big enough to flower. A snowdrop can also be propagated by the seeds, it takes ab. 4 years before there is a bulb able to set flowers. The seed-propagating is done by nature itself, but if snowdrops emerge in strange places, then it might be the ants or mice who move seeds and bulbs.

There are ab. 14 various snowdrops. The most common sorts are all Galanthus nivalis. They look alike but have various green markings upon the white flower-head. A few are different like Galanthus nivalis Plenus with filled flowers, Galanthus nivalis ssp Reginaeolgae, which flowers in autumn. The last mentioned looks like the common snowdrop but has shorter petals, and the flowerbells have a green horseshoe-shaped marking.

Very different are Maximus with larger flowers, Lutescus with yellow markings on the petals and Pictur with green spots upon outer and inner petals. These relatives come especially from Turkey. Most of them are delicate towards hard winters.

Snowdrop is closely connected to a Danish tradition about writing gækkebreve. A snowdrop, fresh or dried, is put together with a finely cut letter. The sender writes his/her name with dots and adds a small verse, and then it's up to the receiver to guess from whom the letter comes. If this is not solved the receiver has to give the sender an Easter egg.

Snowdrops kan be put indoors for earlier flowering -  dig up a lump when the shoot is traceable, plant it in a pot and place it as cool as possible. As soon as the flowers have withered they can be plant in the garden again.

For the fun of it can coloured ink be added to the water in a vase with snowdrops, and in a few hours the petals will be red, green or blue etc. In a vase or pot with full-blown snowdrops their heads will close if they are put in a cool place.

It is important to let the green leaves stay on the withered flowers. The green gathers nourishment for the next years' blooming. This goes for both snowdrops and other bulb-plants.

The plant was also used in folk medicine. It contains an active substance called galanthamine, which can be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, though it is not a cure.

It is useful as a bee-plant because of its early flowering and it gives much nectare but only a little pollen.

The generic name tagalanthus from the Greek gala (milk) and anthos (flower), was given to the genus by Carl Linnaeus in 1735. He described Galanthus nivalis in his Species Plantarum published in 1753. The epithet "nivalis" means "of the snow", referring either to the snow-like flower or the plant's early flowering. The common name snowdrop first appeared in the 1633 edition of John Gerard's Great Herbal . Other British traditional common names include February Fairmaids, Dingle-Dangle, Candlemas bells, Mary's tapers and in parts of Yorkshire Snow Pierces (like the French name perce-neige).

Source: Anemette Olesen, Idényt.

photo Forsthaven: grethe bachmann

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