Heralds of spring; heralds of hope. The Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) or Plúirín sneachta in Irish appears in January and blooms until March (1). It is one of the first flowers of the year to appear in gardens, semi-shaded places, old graveyards and hedgerows (2).
Its drooping white flowers are a cheerful sight in a time of the year when little blooms on nature’s stage. In places where they cover the ground with a carpet of nodding whiteness in gentle breezes, they lift the spirits and prophesise bountiful days ahead (3).
There is no evidence that they are native plants. They are, however, native to the European mainland and were introduced to Britain and Ireland at some time in the past.
Snowdrops have a lovely scent and attract early flying bees to their inner sources of nectar and pollen. Look closely at the inner petals and you will see that they have attractive green tips.
Bulbs can be sown in the autumn but the best method of propagating them is to plant them “in the green” in February or March. This means planting them when the flowers have faded, and the foliage is still green. They like semi-shaded places under trees or shrubs where there is plenty of leaf litter and the soil is rich. Clumps that have become overcrowded can be divided and the bulbs planted in natural looking drifts. Add plenty of leaf mould or compost when planting them.
Snowdrop in English means a pendant the colour of snow. Plúirín in Irish means “little flower”. Sneachta means “snow”. Galanthus in Latin means “milk-flower”. Nivalis in Latin means “snowy”. Indeed, this flower is well named both in English, Latin and Irish (4).