What You Didn't Know About Snowdrops

Весна. Фото: Олег Константинов
Весна. Фото: Олег Константинов

In 1894, the first Snowdrop Day was celebrated in England. Soon, the celebration of the day of spring and hope became a tradition that took root not only in the United Kingdom, but also in many countries of the world. Today, Snowdrop Day is an international holiday that is annually celebrated on April 19.

In the fairy tale "The Twelve Months", Samuil Marshak talks about a girl who went to look for snowdrops in the forest in order to fulfill the will of a capricious princess. For their delicate exterior and frost resistance, these flowers have long been a welcome decoration for dresses of the nobility and the commoners.

As in Europe, in Russia, the interest in snowdrops increased in the 19th century. This was facilitated by the development of the Caucasus and the development of gardening: people began to order "galanthus nivalis" from Europe. Metaphorical is not only the term "galanthus", which means "milk flower" in Greek, but also the names given to the flower among the people. In Russia, galanthus is gently called "podsnezhnik" (eng. “under the snow”), in England - "snowdrop", in Germany - "snow bell", and in Spain – "white snowflake".


Весна на Аю-Даге. Фото: Ирина Гайворонская
Весна на Аю-Даге. Фото: Ирина Гайворонская

Over the centuries, people have been forming legends and tales about the appearance of the first spring flower - a symbol of renewal, hope and perseverance. According to one legend, the goddess Flora dressed a snowdrop in a white suit, and it shared its costume with the snow, and since then the first spring flower and the snow have become true friends. According to another, an angel turned the snowflakes into snowdrops and gave them to Adam and Eve, expelled from paradise, as a sign of hope and fortitude. According to Russian legends, the snowdrop was the only one of the flowers who was not afraid of the evil old woman Winter, and made its way through the thickness of the snow towards the sun and spring.

It is interesting that for a long time any first spring flowers were called snowdrops in Russia. Therefore, Adonis vernalis, liverwort, Eastern pasqueflower, and scilla, and even houseleek were considered snowdrops. However, today it is customary to class as galanthus only perennial plants from the family Amaryllidaceae. Today, there are about 20 species of galanthus that grow in Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and Palestine. In Russia, galanthus grows mainly in its southern part; and the greatest species diversity is represented in the Caucasus (16 species).

Galanthus caucasicus

Endemic to the Caucasus, it grows in its northern and northwestern parts and in the South Caucasus.

The leaves of the plant are linear and flat; the flowers are small - white and fragrant. The flowering period begins in late March and lasts up to 12-25 days. Today, this species is included in the Red Book of the RSFSR (1988) and the Red Books of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation.


Провожая солнце. Фото: Олег Константинов
Провожая солнце. Фото: Олег Константинов

Galantus bortkewitschianus

This species was named in honor of the dendrologist, Vladimir Bortkevich. It is distributed in beech plantations in the North Caucasus, mainly in the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic.

The leaves of the plant are dark green, almost emerald, glaucous; flowers are snow-white with green spots.

Galanthus krasnovii

This type of snowdrop was named after the botanist, Andrei Krasnov. Its distribution area is the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus with beech, hornbeam and mixed forests.

The snowdrop leaves are shiny, bright green, slightly curled; the flowers are small.


Подснежники. Фото: Антонина Агафонова
Подснежники. Фото: Антонина Агафонова

Galanthus nivalis 

The most common species in Russia. It grows in open places in the lower, middle and alpine zones of the mountains of the North Caucasus.

You can recognize Galanthus nivalis by the flat leaves of saturated green color and rather large flowers (they can reach 3cm in diameter) with green spots on the edge of the perianth. Galanthus nivalis  blooms earlier than other species and has a long flowering period - up to 25-30 days.

Galanthus plicatus

For a long time, it was believed that one of the largest snowdrop species is the endemic of the Crimean coast. However, its populations have recently been discovered near Novorossiysk.

The peculiarity of Galanthus plicatus is that the edges of the leaves are bent down, and their color changes during the flowering process: by the end of flowering, the  glaucousness goes away, the leaves become shiny and dark green. The flowers are large and exude a strong aroma.


В гостях у 12 месяцев. Фото: Александра Кутергина
В гостях у 12 месяцев. Фото: Александра Кутергина

Galanthus woronowii

Named after the botanist, Yuri Voronov, the snowdrop grows in the forests of the foothills of the southern part of the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus. The leaves are bright green with a yellow tint, and have an oily sheen. The flowers are small and very fragrant. Under favorable conditions, the plant blooms in late February.