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7 Feb 2020

Blooming gorgeous: snowdrops

Written by Ceris Aston, Volunteer, St Abb’s Head NNR
Close-up of a cluster of snowdrops
Snowdrops look delicate, but are actually very hardy.
The snowdrop is one of our most recognised and best-loved wild flowers. It blooms between January and March, emerging from the cold earth to bring early promise of spring.

Its Latin name Galanthus nivalis means ‘milk flower of the snow’ – but prettier still are the plant’s old common names. These include ‘Candlemas Bells’, ‘Fair Maids of February’ and ‘Little Sister of the Snows’.

Originally found in the forests and meadows of southern and central Europe, snowdrops were cultivated in the UK in the 16th century, and first recorded growing wild in the late 18th century. From our gardens and churchyards, snowdrops spread widely in areas with damp soil, such as riverbanks or woodlands.

An early clump of snowdrops at St Abb’s Head
An early clump of snowdrops at St Abb’s Head

Each white bloom is supported by a single slender stem, and snowdrops are usually found in groups, nodding gently in the breeze. In some woodlands, where the conditions are just right, they clump together in huge white drifts. Like winter aconites, snowdrops’ early flowering allows them to take advantage of sunlight before it’s blocked by the leafy tree canopy.

They propagate mostly through bulb division but on days when the weather is kind they may be visited too by early pollinators, including queen bumblebees on the lookout for an early-year snack.

Despite their delicate appearance, snowdrops endure and thrive in freezing conditions, undamaged and undaunted by falls of snow. They would be always thought pretty, but at a time when winter feels at its bleakest, they’re more than that. They remind us that spring is on its way. It’s unsurprising that for centuries these doughty flowers have been a symbol of hope.

Look out for snowdrops at St Abb’s Head, growing beneath the trees at the car park.

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