Blooming now

Jim McKenney
Mon, 22 Mar 2010 15:16:40 PDT
Judy wrote: “ Now come on, folks. Do you find the appearance of snowdrop and
snowflake so similar as to be confused? Is Leucojum aestivum, flowering in
May with 3 or more flowers indistinguishable from L. vernum flowering 2
months early at less than half the size and only a single flower?”

Actually, I find it easy to believe that they might be confused. A friend
told me yesterday that he noticed that Leucojum aestivum had already started
to bloom in his garden here in Maryland; in my nearby garden L. vernum has
just finished. Thus, Leucojum aestivum was in bloom on the first full day of
spring, and who knows, it might have been in bloom the day before on the
last day of winter. 

Furthermore, L. vernum does not always have a single flower: paired flowers
are well known. To add to the potential confusion, the individual flowers of
L. vernum are bigger than the individual flowers of the much taller L.

I well remember the confusion I experienced decades ago when I imported what
was supposed to be Leucojum vernum from a British supplier. What was sent
was a form of L. aestivum (which still persists in the garden) which, while
much taller than L. vernum as I eventually came to know it, is still smaller
than the typical L. aestivum of gardens. It took me a while to stop trying
to convince myself that it really was L. vernum. 

As for the distinction between snowflakes and snowdrops, I can easily
understand why they might be confused. If the only ones known (as would have
been the case to most gardeners hundreds of years ago) are the common
snowdrop Galanthus nivalis and Leucojum vernum and L. aestivum, then
wouldn’t they make a nice little genus?  In Parkinson’s day, when only three
Leucojum and two  snowdrops were known and all were regarded as exotic
plants, they were all called Leucojum (or a he spelled it,  Leucoium, a
reminder that the j in the modern spelling is not the English j but rather
the semivowel i) Remember, in Parkinson’s time, what we now know as
Zephyranthes and Pancratium maritimum were Narcissius and Pseudonarcissus
respectively. His Narcissus included all the short-trumpet or no-trumpet
sorts, including short trumpet Pancratium (in the modern sense); his
Pseudonarcissus included the long trumpet sorts. 

History suggests that there is plenty of good reason to be confused

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where fritillaries, tulips, crocuses, alliums and lots of others are
germinating freely now in the cold frames.
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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