Galanthus is a small genus of about 20 species of bulbous perennial herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small white drooping bell shaped flower.
Snowdrops have been known since the earliest times under various names but were named Galanthus in 1753. The word Galanthus is Greek and translated is ‘gála’ “milk” and ánthos’ “flower”, ‘nivalis is derived from the latin meaning ‘of the snow’. The word “Snowdrop” could be derived from the German ‘Schneetropfen’ “Snow-drop”, the tear drop shaped pearl earrings popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Other, earlier, common names include Candlemas bells, Fair maids of February and White ladies.
Most species flower in winter, but some species flower in early spring and late autumn.
The genus Galanthus is native to Europe and the Middle East. Galanthus nivalis and some other species valued as ornamentals have become widely naturalized in Europe, North America and other regions. Galanthus nivalis is the best-known and most widespread representative of the genus Galanthus.
Galanthus grows best in woodland, in acid or alkaline soil, though some are grassland or mountain species. They naturalise relatively easily forming large drifts. Galanthus plants are relatively vigorous and may spread rapidly by forming bulb offsets. They also spread by dispersal of seed, animals disturbing bulbs, and water if flooding disturbs them. Celebrated as a sign of spring, snowdrops can form impressive carpets of white in areas where they are native or have been naturalised.
Sometimes known as ‘Deaths Flower’, this probably stems from the fact that these little flowers can cause death if the bulb is eaten. As with a lot of plants Snowdrops used in the correct doses can also have benefits to our health as humans. Galantamine is extracted from the plant and used to help treat our nervous systems. It is commonly used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s.