Flower of the month – January

The snowdrop may appear delicate but it is a hardy little plant, surviving snowfall and cold temperatures. It has long been associated with the winter – its Latin classification, Galanthus nivalis, literally means ‘milk flower of the snow’.

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The snowdrop is native across Central and Southern Europe, and became naturalised within our native flora. In his book Types of Floral Mechanism (1908), Arthur Church suggests the snowdrop may have been brought to our shores by the Romans, but notes that the first-known cultivation of the plant was made by John Gerard in 1597. 

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In the 1950s, snowdrops would not typically flower until late February, but during the past few decades the teardrops of white have appeared ever earlier, and in particularly mild winters, snowdrops may not even wait for a New Year to begin.

Though small, the leafless stem and two slender lanceolate leaves are rich in chlorophyll, and their green stands bold against the deadened colours of winter. 

When formed, the flower hangs from the stem like a lantern on a ship’s bow, with the three outer tepals curved into a tight pointed oval that may appear solid. However, there is plenty of room for an insect to squeeze its way in and find pollen at a time when other food is scarce. The bracts later open, releasing the flower to droop downwards, with three outer tepals opening outwards and three inner tepals (white and light-green at the tip) remaining close together.      

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Image credit: Getty