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Snowdrops in bloom

Snowdrops in bloom


At this time of year I always keep watch for my Snowdrops, to bloom. Last year the first one bloomed on March 15th. That didn’t happen this year. I’m still waiting for them to show. This is actually far later than for most of the country because these harbingers of spring often bloom in February in more southerly places. Snowdrops botanical name, Galanthus, means milk flower in Greek, and the Common Snowdrop hardy to my area is G. nivalis, or covered in snow, so when my snow covered white flower emerges, icy fakes often do hang off them. The green markings on the inner flower add a bit of fay color to the otherwise all white, dainty flowers.

The plants are native to most of Europe from the south to the far north, but have spread widely around the world. This means the plants are very adaptable. While they like moist but well-drained soil in part shade, they survive in clay and can withstand full sun. They even grow under walnut trees which tend to poison the soil surrounding their trunk with juglone. Snowdrops are ephemeral, meaning the foliage sticks around long enough to build the bulb’s strength and then dies back before summer’s heat. While the little flowers give every snow-dejected spirit joy and hope, these are small, nearly insignificant flowers. Massive plantings are best for gardens, say at least twenty-five, but a hundred or more is better yet.

Most gardeners aren’t aware the bulbs are very poisonous, containing the alkaloids lycorine and galantamine. Lycorine is found in Amaryllidaceae family, that causes gastro intestinal distress. Galantamine on the other hand, has medical use in the treatment of mild Alzheimer’s. The bulbs also contain the glycoside scillaine, or scillitoxin, which affects the heart. So I guess the moral is beauty and hope come at a high price. No wonder deer don’t like them.

Update: 3/25 snow melted enough (not entirely gone!) to show my snowdrops blooming. Spring is here!

Gardens bring both the gardener and the viewer great joy. A few moments looking at a garden filled with a riot of color feeds our souls with cheer and hope. There is no other word for it. A well-designed garden can bring inspiration, sooth the wounded spirit and calm the angry one. Even a single plant in full flower in an otherwise barren yard can make us believe in goodness and that life will outlast the greatest disasters. Yet most gardens are doomed unless under the care of professional gardeners in a major botanic garden. Like all life, gardens are ephemeral moments of glory, because when the garden moves on, nature takes over.

Once the garden is left untended, the environment changes. Only the strong will survive. While nature is a magnificent, and an awe-inspiring force, it is merciless and can devastate an untended garden.

Gardeners delight in growing plants from all over the world, some of these non-natives can outgrow anything in the local habitat and become unwanted menaces. Others only survive because of the gardener’s diligence, and disappear along with the gardener.

Sometimes, however, the remains of long ago gardens can be recognized. One reminder is often the jubilant daffodil. They mark homesteads that have disappeared in time. By their very nature these non-native spring flowers endure.

About fifty species of narcissus are known, coming from Europe and North Africa. Because all parts are poisonous, most predators and insects leave them alone. They grow in full sun or full shade, and while some prefer to grow in warmer climates, most are very hardy. In the right site, they seem to last forever, a monument to the gardener who once grew them, and to the “Once upon a time” ephemeral nature of gardens.

The bloodroot (Sanquinaria canadensis) are just beginning to bloom along the road in a wooded depression. Their fat palm-shaped leaves emerge from the ground furled in tight spears, and their blooms spring up not much higher than six inches. These small native glories of the spring also make wonderful garden plants. I have some that I purchases a few years ago in my woodland garden. They are starting to spread. I think I’ll buy more to help them along the way. If you decide you want some, just be sure that you buy your rootstock from a reliable nursery and don’t dig them out of the wild.

According to Armitage’s Herbaceous Perennial Plants the rootstock has a yellowish-red sap when cut. He says, “The sap was used by the Indians as a dye for coloring and war paint(517).” That’s interesting, isn’t it?

They are very hardy plants but ephemeral in that the foliage dies back in summer. Shade is important, as is springtime moisture. They can be divided after their blooms have died off, but I still think I’ll just buy some more.

Armitage, Allan. Herbaceous Perennial Plants. Varsity Press, Inc. Georgia. 1989.

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