Flowering this week: the early snowdrops

The “snowdrop” in NZ – leucojum vernum (left) The proper snowdrop – galanthus S. Arnott (right)

New Zealanders are vague on identifying snowdrops and often confuse the snowflakes that have naturalised in paddocks alongside daffodils with snowdrops. But people of English stock have no doubt at all as to what proper snowdrops are because they grow wild en masse through parts of the countryside, even bravely putting their heads through the snow. Proper snowdrops are galanthus and have three inner petals forming a dainty cup with an outer skirt of three long petals. The pure white flowers often have some green markings on them and they are simply the prettiest and daintiest things imaginable. Lacking snow, our snowdrops flower a little randomly and intermittently all winter but the main display won’t come for another month or so. We have several different forms of galanthus but in an area where we are marginal (they do prefer a much colder winter), galanthus S. Arnott is the most reliable form.

Snowflakes, by the way, are a different bulb altogether, being leucojums. They grow larger, have just the dainty cup flower without the 3 long petals, a remarkably long flowering season in spring, are easy and unfussy and are completely under-rated as a garden plant.