The Snowflake Fairy

Robed in white comes Snowflake Fairy, braving wintry winds and ice, pearly ‘Maid of February,’ whom the glistening frosts entice. Gladly welcome Snowflake Fairy, on your terrace give her room. She alone in February braves the cold to shed her bloom.”
—The Snowflake Fairy, Elizabeth Gordon

Poem about Common Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), describing the significance of their appearance, hence why they are also known as the “flower of hope”.

In the UK, common snowdrops are simply just known as snowdrops

Common snowdrops can be found all across the UK, favouring damp soils. This can make them a common sight in broadleaved woodlands and along riverbanks, and lesser so in parks, gardens, meadows, and scrubland.

G. nivalis often grows in clusters, due to them being a bulbous plant, and can reach heights of 7-15 cm. They are also a member of the amaryllis family, Amaryllidaceae.

The leaves are dull grey-green in colour, which are smooth, narrow to linear in shape, and form around the base of the plant. Each plant usually has 2-3 of these leaves.

Common snowdrops tend to bloom between January and March, forming nodding white flowers attached to a single stem. These flowers are composed of six white tepals (common snowdrops lack petals), with the inner three being smaller and having a notch at the tip, containing a green upturned ‘V’ shape. The term tepals is used when the petals and the sepals on a flower cannot be differentiated phenotypically (visibly), and are common in other plants, like tulips and cacti.

G. nivalis are non-native to the UK, however, it is still unclear on the exact date they were introduced. It has been suggested that they may have been grown as a ornamental plant in gardens around the 16th century, but have not been recorded in the wild until the late 18th century. They are mostly native to the deciduous woodlands and alpine areas of Europe and western Asia.

Common snowdrops do not rely on pollinators for reproduction, as they bloom so early. They instead, rather, spread via bulb division. However, this does not mean that they are still not visited by bees and other insects, particularly on warm days.

The common snowdrop’s scientific name, Galanthus nivalis, can be translated from Greek, with ‘gala’ meaning milk, ‘anthos’ meaning flower, and ‘nivalis’ meaning snow.

G. nivalis‘ flowers have an association with the Christian festival, Candlemas, which is celebrated on the 2nd February. Here. the flowers were collected and used to decorate churches, and worn as a symbol of purity during this celebration. This has also led to these snowdrops gaining the alternative name of Candlemas bells.

Common snowdrops were also traditionally used to treat headaches and as a painkiller. In modern medicine, a compound within the bulb, galantamine, has been used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, and potentially dementia. The bulbs themselves, on the other hand, are poisonous if eaten.