Snowdrops this Spring
Snowdrops this Spring
Walk around the grasslands, woodlands, parks or gardens in early spring and you are very likely to come across large sprays of delicate white flowers, commonly known as snowdrops. They may be small but they come with a mysterious, complex history and have been used for centuries as a symbol of rebirth and renewal.
These small white bell-like flowers usually bloom between January and March as they tend to prefer the shady, damp and cooler conditions that time of year. Under bushes, shrubs and trees is where you will likely find these misleading flowers. Despite their delicate looks they are very hardy flowers with the ability to withstand harsh freezing environments. Their sap is poisonous and acts as a natural form of antifreeze. Their stems, although thin, are sturdy enough to be flattened by and then poke through a thick carpet of snow. This remarkable natural ability to stay alive in freezing temperatures means they are typically among some of the first bulb species of the year to flower. They tend to dislike drier, sandy soil and full sun so will then usually begin to disappear underground again late spring when the weather becomes warmer and rain is less frequent.
The snowdrop species in Jersey also goes by the scientific name ‘Galanthus nivalis’ which when translated from Latin to English literally translates to ‘snowy milk flower’ (Escape to Britain). Over the years snowdrops have had many different names derived from many different languages. In Jerriais (Jersey-French) they go by ‘des bouonnefemmes’ translating to ‘good women’ as their flowers resemble the white bell-shaped summer petticoats women used to wear - can you see any resemblance?
In Victorian England flowers were used to represent or convey meaning and were often used almost like a second language; snowdrops were no exception. For some they were a symbol of death and bad luck due to their poisonous and corrosive sap and common presence in cemeteries and churchyards. However, their light delicate appearance that contrasts with the dark surroundings and their bloom in early spring would eventually lead to them representing rebirth and the beginning of new lifecycles.
Today snowdrops are listed as near threatened on the global IUCN red list of threatened species. Jersey botanist Frances le Sueur describes their naturalization as complex, confusing and likely to have been gradual. We can be sure that they were present in the wild early 19th century and likely experienced a sharp decline of some description, but their exact time of introduction is a debate for another day.
Despite their troubled history on Jersey snowdrops are thankfully now more common and can be seen in woodlands, parks, gardens, orchards, grassland and heathland around the island. They are a beautiful reminder of what spring brings and represent the beginning of a new yearly cycle. Keep an eye out this spring and make sure to record any you find with us here.
Photo credit: Louise Whale