The snowdrop, also called Galanthus, exists in 20 species. The species differ in terms of the flowering months in the natural habitat and in some characteristic external features, such as the shape of the leaf shoots, the shape and position of the green markings of the inner petals and the shape and length of the leaves and whether they are shiny or dull.
Trivial names include Spring Bells, Pretty February Girl, as well as Candlemas Bells and March Bells, as well as March Violets and Lady Candles. Some also refer to these flowers as milk flowers, others as snow piercers or as snow tulips or as white maidens or white bells.
Snowdrops are considered herbaceous plants and have two, but sometimes three, parallel-veined foliage leaves.
In snowdrops, the inflorescence is sprouted over a long flowering stem and with only one flower. Initially, the flower is surrounded by a bracts, which protects the flower from severe weather. Later, the flower breaks through the sheath, with the stem bending to one side, as it is only weakly built. The flower is a fragrant, hermaphroditic and radially symmetrical flower, consisting of three-petaled circles. Three petals enclose the flower proper, which has pointed cone-shaped stamens that are close together and three carpels that are fused to form an undershot ovary. The flower has a white pistil and has a cephalic stigma.
The fruit is a capsule fruit. These contain 18 to 36 seeds. These seeds are light brown and have a diameter of 3.5 millimeters. A large fleshy nutritive body is attached to the fruit.
The 20 or so species of snowdrops are found in Central and Southern Europe, as well as in the Near East and the Caucasus. Only the lesser snowdrop is native to Central Europe. Occasionally other species occur wild. Most of the snowdrop species are found in the countries bordering the Black Sea. All 12 of the known species occur in Turkey. In the south of Russia and in Georgia there are 7 species. Meanwhile, 5 species are native to Greece. In North America, snowdrops are found only in feral species and as neophytes.
Snowdrops grow in forest meadows and deciduous forests, in floodplains and prefer shady and moist places. Snowdrops are also very common and feel at home in public green spaces such as parks.
Snowdrops have an excellent reputation in natural medicine. The plant parts all contain poisonous alkaloids, especially in the bulb, where mainly the amaryllidaceous alkaloid is present. In the other parts of the plant they are tazettine, galantamine and the lycorine. However, all alkaloids are not present in any critical dose. In naturopathy, these are used in dementia and to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Snowdrops are usually considered the first harbingers of spring. However, the blooming period of the wild species ranges from October to the end of spring. Some of the cultivated species bloom until April.
Since 1973, all wild species have been protected under the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The cultivation of snowdrops began from 1856, after the end of the Crimean War. English soldiers brought from the Crimean peninsula bulbs of the species native there and planted them in gardens after crossing them with the Turkish species Galanthus elwesii. Overgrown snowdrop species already existed at that time. These probably originated from monastery gardens. Their occurrence was proven as early as 1770.
The reason why the sight of snowdrops is so fascinating is that despite low ambient temperatures, the plants burst out of the ground and begin to bloom even when the meadow or ground is still covered with snow. This is called thermogenesis, but it is not proven. Instead, it is assumed that the melting of the snow is caused by the absorption of solar radiation.