Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)

With the weather still cold and the days still short it is the humble snowdrop that gives us hope that spring will soon be here. While known as ‘spring flowers’, these hardy herbaceous plants are so hardy that they often bloom in winter. They can even emerge and grow through snow due to a natural anti-freeze they produce.

Their Latin name Galanthus is derived from the Greek word gala, meaning "milk" and anthos meaning "flower". Nivalis is derived from the Latin, meaning "of the snow", while ‘milk flower of the snow’ sounds quite poetic, it’s a bit of a mouthful so ‘Common Snowdrop’ works just fine for us!


Photo Credit: Jonathan Clark, Victoria Park

Photo Credit: Paul Hunter

They are an instantly recognisable part of our landscapes by the white flowers which hang from a single stem with three inner petals and three external petals loosely opening outwards. These flower heads can have one or multiple layers of petals. The grassy foliage is a vibrant light green and they grow to around 7-15cm in height.

They love semi shaded alkaline soils so are common in wooded areas and along hedgerows where leaf falls feed them as a natural fertiliser. When temperatures reach 10c and above, the outer petals open up revealing the nectar inside. When the temperature drops, the petal shield closes and protects the nectar. It is no coincidence that bumble bees also come out of hibernation when the temperature rises above 10C and the snowdrop nectar is an essential first meal of the year for many.

Where to find it?

Despite the snowdrop being a common naturalised feature of our landscape, they are actually native to Central Europe and the Middle East and were widely introduced to the UK and Ireland in the early 16th century.

Closer to home they can be found all along the Greenway from Victoria Park right up to Cregagh Glen and Braniel.

Photo Credit: Paul Hunter, Orangefield Park

This little plant has been the inspiration for many of the arts including poetry, paintings and even well- known writer Hans Christian Andersen.

“What a long time it takes! What a long time it takes!” said the Flower. “I feel a stirring and striving within me; I must stretch myself, I must unlock the door, I must get out, and must nod a good morning to the summer, and what a happy time that will be!”

The Snowdrop  -1863

Be Part of it…

We have been inundated this week with great pictures of snowdrops from along the Greenway. It is lovely to think that many were planted during the Greenway’s construction by local schools and community groups and these are the very people you may see out and about enjoying the results of their hard work.

Keep sending us in suggestions of what plants you are seeing and if we know it we will write about it.