Species Of The Week Number 20: Common Snowdrop

Bringing a little bit of joy to Meanwood Valley in February is the Common Snowdrop or, to use its old Yorkshire name, the Snow Piercer. You cant miss these lovely patches of white reminding us that soon Winter will be on its way and Spring will come.

But there is more to our little Snowdrop than meets the eye.

A native plant in mainland Europe, it was brought to England a few centuries ago. It has now naturalised and can be found on verges, woodland and in gardens.

There are also over 2,500 cultivated species of Snowdrop but despite that proliferation it only ever comes in one colour - white*. Snowdrop fans are called Galanthophiles and if they get over excited at a Snowdrop festival it could even be described as a case of Galathomania.

It is illegal to collect the bulbs in the wild as they’re covered by CITES regulations – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. If you do happen to get your hands on the variety known as Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Tear’ then don't let it go - because in 2022 one sold on Ebay for £1,850. See - that's Galanthomania right there.

Not just aesthetically pleasing, the Snowdrop also has practical uses. The flowers can be used in salads (but not the leaves or bulbs which are toxic).

The plant contains galantamine which can be used to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) galantamine is a "reversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase and it also has nicotinic receptor agonist properties". Which just goes to show how much they know.

But my favourite Snowdrop fact is that when the temperature reaches 10°C the outer petals open up to reveal the nectar inside. 10°C is also the exact temperature at which bumble bees come out of hibernation. So which came first - the chicken or the egg?

*actually some have green bits on the petals.

Posted on 08 February, 2023 17:10 by clunym clunym


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