Snowdrops herald spring

Last updated 09:02 13/09/2013

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There are at least 20 species of snowdrop and most are said to flower before the vernal equinox.

This terminology usually refers to the time of the year when the length of night and day are approximately equal. In the southern hemisphere this is around September 22 so when the snowdrop flowers we know that spring is not far away.

Snowdrops are perennial plants that grow from small bulbs. Each bulb produces two or three leaves and an erect flower stalk which is often taller than the leaves. The typical snowdrop flower forms at the tip of the stalk and it's often described as a delicate pendulus bloom with six petals. This is not really correct as the snowdrop does not have petals. What looks like petals are in fact sepals. Sepals form the protective covering of the flower bud. In most plants the sepals are green but in the snowdrop they are white. There are six of them. An inner ring of three that green and shaped like an upturned V and an outer ring that are plain white.

Although in specific cases they have helpful medicinal properties, snowdrops and their bulbs should not be eaten as they are poisonous and can cause nausea and vomiting.

Illustrated is a species called Galanthus nivalis; Galanthus refers to milk-white flowers and nivalis means snowy. Most folk simply call it the common snowdrop.

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- The Southland Times


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