Friday, 13 February 2009


It’s February so it’s Snowdrop time again!
Hundreds of suburban gardens in South Manchester will be sporting their little patches of Snowdrops this month, but they do occasionally escape into the wild. My favourite colony was in Stretford – but, alas, I couldn’t find them this year. I’m not sure what’s happened to them. I don’t think that they’ve been dug up – perhaps they’ve just died out (?) Nevertheless, I managed to find a little colony near the Mersey Valley Visitors’ Centre at Sale and interestingly, these were the double flowered (flore pleno) variety.
The Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is just one member of a group of around 20 related species in the Daffodil Family (Amaryllidaceae). Galanthus species are found in Europe, Asia Minor and the Near East. They are distributed from the Pyrenees in the West to the Caucasus and Iran in the East and they extend as far south as Sicily, the Peloponnese and Lebanon. It is now impossible to tell the northern limit of distribution because of introduction and cultivation by humans. In the British Isles G. nivalis may be native to certain parts of the south west but this is debatable. At least two other species of Galanthus are occasionally found in the wild in Britain, as garden escapes, but I have not yet found them in the Mersey Valley.In British botanical literature the earliest mention of this plant seems to be in Gerard’s Herbal of 1597 and they don’t appear to have been recorded in the wild until the 1770s. Nevertheless, they have vernacular names – ‘Fair Maids of February’, ‘Candlemas Bells’ and ‘White Ladies’ – which all appear to be connected to the religious Feast of Candlemas (2nd February) and may well pre-date the name ‘Snowdrops’. It is probably no coincidence that they are often associated with monastic sites.
Dave Bishop, February 2009


1. 'The Genus Galanthus', by Aaron. P. Davis, Timber Press, 1999

2. 'Flora Britannica' by Richard Mabey, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996
3. ‘Interactive Flora of the British Isles’ (DVD ROM) by C.A. Stace, eds R. van der Meijden & I. de Kort, ETI bioinformatics, 2004

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