James Waddick
Sun, 01 Feb 2004 08:58:50 PST
Dear PBS and Alpine-L;
         Welcome to a combined Topic of the Week (TOW). We hope you have 
read the earlier posting about how these topics will be presented in 
February. Enjoy the first below.   Mary Sue and Jim

         An admitted 'Galanthophile', John Grimshaw is also well known as 
an expert in East Africa Ecology, plant geographer and writer. He is one of 
the coauthors of the most current book on snowdrops and is garden advisor 
at Colesbourne Gardens one of the foremost public snowdrop displays. 
February is his 'busy' month so direct replies may be delayed.

Galanthus - Pacific Bulb Society and Alpine Topic opf the Week  by John 

Ah hush! Tread softly through the rime,
For there will be a blackbird singing, or a thrush.
Like coloured beads the elmbuds flush:
All the trees dream of leaves and flowers and light.
And see! The northern bank is much more white
Than frosty grass, for now is snowdrop time.

Mary Webb Snowdrop Time

It is now snowdrop time indeed. For weeks the shoots have been emerging, 
and the clumps becoming more visible. Some have been out for weeks, others 
are over, but February is really snowdrop time in England, when the 
majority of snowdrops are in full flower. It is the shortest and, for 
galanthophiles, the busiest month of the year. Non-gardeners think it odd 
when I say that February is my busiest time, and even odder when they get 
the one-word explanation: snowdrops.

To the non-gardener and, I fear, sometimes to gardeners as well, snowdrops 
are just little white flowers that appear when its too cold to think of 
going outside. They all look the same, to such people. With luck, they'll 
know of singles and doubles, and some will have a 'giant' snowdrop in their 
own or friends' garden; at least they may recognize that there are 
differences. It is the realization that snowdrops are so variable that 
sparks an interest that may lead to full-blown galanthophilia.

Each year, here at Colesbourne Park, we host large numbers of visitors who 
come to see our snowdrops. It's not always clear why they come - often it's 
just for something to do - but once we take the time to explain the 
differences between them, they become fascinated, and can be seen fervently 
bending down to examine the flowers. The basic model snowdrop flower is 
very easy to understand, and occurs in all 19 species of the genus 
Galanthus. The flower has three large 'petals' - correctly the outer 
perianth segments, that are usually pure white. When the flower is closed 
during cold weather these wrap around each other to make a tear-drop shaped 
flower, but when it is warmer, they expand and open, lifting up to reveal 
the whorl of three inner perianth segments within the flower. The inner 
segments are much shorter than the outer whorl, and form a stiff little 
tube in the centre of the flower. On the outer surface they bear a 
distinctive green marking of varying extent and shape, usually at the apex 
of the segment; on their inner surface they are ridged, with green lines 
between the ridges. The tip of the inner segment is almost always notched. 
The inner segments surround a cone of bright yellow anthers, which in turn 
surround the stigma. All the floral parts are attached to the ovary, a 
rounded green organ above the outer segments. The flower is borne on a fine 
stalk, the pedicel, which emerges from the main stem or scape. In bud the 
flower is held within the spathe, a fine membrane connected to two spathe 
valves at the top of the scape: it is erect in bud, but as it bursts from 
the spathe the flower hangs downwards and assumes the familiar nodding 

If all 19 species of Galanthus have similar flowers, where does the 
variation come in?  First there is the size. Some individuals may have 
larger, or smaller, flowers than the average. The shape, especially of the 
outer segments, can differ, some being wider or narrower, longer or 
shorter, resulting in a different outline to the flower. The outer 
segments, usually white, may bear green markings at their tips, or over 
almost their entire extent: occasionally they may even resemble the inner 
segments in shape, complete with the notch.

A great deal of variation occurs in the green marking on the outer face of 
the inner segment. In many snowdrops the marking is a simple ^ shape, often 
called an 'inverted V' or 'apical V', above and following the outline of 
the notch. This may be wider or narrower, sometimes being reduced to a 
couple of dots, or forming quite a broad band. A simple ^ is characteristic 
of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, as well as G. plicatus, G. 
reginae-olgae and several of the rarer species. In G. ikariae the marks 
looks square and chunky, covering about half of the segment. In others, 
particularly G. elwesii var. elwesii, G. gracilis and G. plicatus ssp. 
byzantinus there is an additional band of green above (as you look at a 
pendulous flower) the apical V, giving two distinct markings. G. elwesii 
varies considerably, however, and ranges from individuals with only a 
single inverted V marking (known as var. monostictus) to those in which the 
two marks unite, sometimes colouring the whole surface in green (also var. 
elwesii). The pattern of inner segment markings is remarkably constant and 
can be used to reliably identify cultivars. A similar range of markings can 
be found in the numerous hybrids.

Colour varies somewhat in the inner segment markings, from pale to very 
deep green, usually being aptly described as mid-green, however. An 
occasional variation, very much sought after, is for the markings, and 
usually the ovary as well, to be yellow, or yellowish green. We get 
visitors hunting the 'yellow snowdrops' who clearly think that they're 
looking for something tinted like a daffodil; they can be a bit 
disappointed when the reality is shown them. But yellow markings make for a 
very pretty snowdrop and variants such as G. nivalis Sandersii Group, G. 
plicatus 'Wendy's Gold' and G. elwesii 'Carolyn Elwes' are very popular.

Another rare variation is for the inner segments to lack any markings; 
these are known as albinoes. Not uncommon is the situation where the 
characteristic inner segments are replaced by what appear to be outer 
segments - longer and pure white, with no green markings or notch. Such are 
referred to as poculiforms, a curious word derived from the Latin for a 
little cup, often shortened by galanthophiles to 'pocs.'

The outer segments may have green markings on them, usually close to the 
tip, but sometimes spreading over the entire segment. Green-tipped plants 
were formerly regarded as rather rare freaks, but it is becoming apparent 
that they are a normal part of snowdrop variation and not all that unusual 
in wild populations. The best known remains G. nivalis 'Viridapice', a 
vigorous plant and a good doer that is now often available in the dry bulb 
catalogues. Similar, but differing in its elongated, leafy spathe valves is 
the amusing 'Scharlockii'. The two sometimes intergrade. In G. elwesii, 
'Comet' has good green tips in some years, but not at all in others; the 
feature is erratic in appearance in this species. 'Comet' is excellent 
regardless, having large flowers held on elongated pedicels.

A long pedicel is usually regarded as adding elegance to the flower. 
'Magnet' was the first of this kind to be named, and now, at over 100 years 
of age, it is still going strong. 'Galatea' is another good one; the angle 
of kink in the pedicel is what tells them apart.

Double flowered snowdrops have been known for 300 years or more, in the 
shape of G. nivalis 'Flore Pleno', a wonderfully vigorous plant that 
spreads through woodland almost as easily as its single counterpart. it is 
sometimes scoffed at by purists who think its multiplication of inner 
segments is messy, but as a garden plant it is excellent. Although it does 
not set seed, its pollen is fertile and it is believed that almost all 
double snowdrop hybrids are descended from it. These include the series 
known as Greatorex doubles, deliberately raised from 'Flore Pleno' pollen 
on a G. plicatus stigma, and the beautiful 'Hill Poe' with 5 outer segments 
and perfectly whorled inner segments. The Greatorex Doubles are mostly 
named after Shakespearian heroines, 'Ophelia', 'Desdemona', 'Titania' and 
the like and are rather difficult to identify. They are all good vigorous 
plants, however. Choice things often arise when 'Flore Pleno' crosses with 
G. elwesii, including the neat round flowers of 'Richard Ayres' and 'Mrs 
Wrightson's Double'.

In addition to the floral characteristics, the leaves of snowdrops are 
important for achieving an identification. G. nivalis and its allies tend 
to have narrow leaves with parallel margins; a feature known as applanate 
vernation. In G. plicatus, which can have rather broader leaves, the edge 
of the leaf is neatly folded back under the blade - explicative vernation, 
most clearly seen when the leaves are young, or later, at their base. In G. 
elwesii and its allies, the leaves are arranged so that the outer one wraps 
around the inner, giving two crescents if the shoot were to be cut in 
transverse section. This is supervolute vernation. (Vernation is the word 
for the arrangement of leaves in bud). In pure species these categories are 
very reliable and give an immediate indication of what it may, or cannot 
be. In hybrids, however, things become more complicated, because the 
various patterns combine in sometimes odd ways. For example, in 'S.Arnott', 
a classic hybrid between G. nivalis and G. plicatus, one margin of the four 
possible on two linear leaves is explicative, i.e. folded back, while 
'George Elwes', a cross between G. plicatus x G. elwesii.has supervolute 
vernation, but the inner leaf has explicative margins!

While these are the details that must be looked for and appreciated as a 
good galanthophile, it is important never to lose sight of snowdrops as 
objects of beauty. I fear that some of my galanthophilic friends are so 
busy inspecting inner segments and leaf margins that they are blind to the 
beauty of the plants they are looking at, but not seeing. Freaks and 
curiosities are all very well, but what is more important is that 
hard-to-define entity, 'a good garden plant.' I have my own ideas, but it 
would be more interesting if Alpine-Elves would suggest their own 5 or 10 
best garden snowdrops during the course of this week. I am sure that the 
selection will be interesting.

For further reading on snowdrops, I can only recommend Snowdrops, by Matt 
Bishop, Aaron Davis and myself, published by the Griffin Press. It is 
available from the NARGS bookstore, AGS Publications and the RHS bookshop, 
which are probably the easiest sources of copies for gardeners. As an 
insider trading tip, stocks are diminishing quickly, and there are no plans 
to reprint.

The book 'Snowdrops', The Griffin Press, is available in the US from Arnold 
Trachtenberg (with email address shown in a way to avoid spam), arnold at

And the earlier book, The Genus Galanthus by A.P. Davis from Roy. Bot. 
Gard., Kew and Timber Press.

John Grimshaw
Gardens Cottage, Colesbourne
Nr Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
E-fax  419-781-8594

Zone 5 Record low -23F
         Summer 100F +

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