Some years ago I stumbled upon Tom Mitchell’s G. reginae-olgae and G. peshmenii articles (http://www.revolution-snowdrops.co.uk/). Before this, I had never considered that a botanical tour, especially one for just a single genus or species, might be interesting. I loved everything, from the pictures of Peshmenii snowdrops hanging from rocks near the sea on Kastellorizo, to the picture of Reginae-Olgae snowdrops flowering through nets in olive groves. I read his articles several times, and they set me on a path to become a Galantophile. Although I doubt I can reach the excellence of writing of Tom Mitchell, I hope you will enjoy this blog post all the same.
This last November 2019 after about a year of preparation, I set off on a trip to Corfu. I took my car from Nijmegen to Amstelveen, parked it there, took the bus to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and flew off to Athens.
Waiting for me there was Yanik Neff (www.swiss-drops.ch), who had taken a similar journey from Zurich. His preparation had clearly been greater than mine, as he brought a professional drone, a camera, a highly accurate GPS device with altimeter and general expedition equipment along with him. This gear he needed to take good quality pictures and notes for his book on Snowdrops on Corfu. Yanik had studied the humidity of the soil of some snowdrop sites in summer already, and currently wanted to accurately mark interesting sites for seed collection later.
Arrival on Corfu airport.
After arriving on Corfu airport, we took our rental car in the dark to a central location on the island, from where we intended to explore the rest of the island. Despite my best efforts, I could discern no roadside snowdrops from the car in the low light levels.
A lot of effort was taken to determine which sites to find the snowdrops on. Yanik showed me some geological studies on the composition of Corfu, and on which soil to expect snowdrops. Apparently the limestone layers, or carbonates, were to be the most successful. They can only be found on central and northern Corfu (see figure 2 here and figure 2 here).
I had additionally looked through some literature on the location of flowers on Corfu. “Supra pagum” was the advice of one article concerning snowdrops; above a certain village. Then there were the general recommendations, north-facing slopes near streams underneath deciduous forest (in limestone soil).
The big spoiler of the entire vacation: we could find snowdrops anywhere. Though the general advice definitely worked well to find the plants, they were anywhere with enough year-round water, limited sunlight and not too high temperatures during summer. Soil type and plant cover could greatly vary without apparent problems, but more on that later.
First roadside snowdrops on Corfu (also see additional picture #1.
The first snowdrops that we found were indeed growing beside the road. They were in a wet slope underneath deciduous trees. We had been lucky, as it had been storming quite badly the week before we arrived, the rainwater being an excellent initiator of snowdrop growth. It was still frequently raining the first two days, but the worse was over by the remaining days.
A snowdrop poking out through the forest floor
I had made a quick stop at a single site on the Taigetos mountains in October of the previous year. The marks on the inner whirl of perianths of the Corfu snowdrops appeared to be fuller in comparison to the snowdrops found there, which usually only had a small inverted u-shape (see images on the home page of the website).
Like in the Taigetos, the snowdrops were often surrounded by Cyclamen and Hedera. In many areas, nearby thorny brambles frequently protected snowdrops from unwanted visitors. A combination of mosquitoes and brambles made snowdrop searching in some areas near-impossible.
A clearing underneath deciduous trees (also see add. pic. 2)
As we followed the trail of snowdrops into the forest, we found a clearing underneath trees, completely filled with the plants. Besides this clearing, a stream ran. On both the sides of the stream more snowdrops continued as far as we could see. This was a pattern we would more frequently observe. Entire habitats of snowdrops were filled from populations that had started out from near a stream. Anywhere from olive groves to old junkyards had snowdrop populations founded from nearby streams.
Galantophiles have a tendency to get excited about minute differences in flower appearance. Interestingly, some well-loved features could be found on nearly any big snowdrop site. Green-tipped outer perianths, flowers with 4×4 perianths and plants with green on the entire inner perianth (‘Merlin’-types to galantophiles) could be found aplenty. Although it is true that not all plants will show the same appearance the next year, one might question the exorbitant prices paid for such types.. All these types we found on the first day.
Green-tipped, fully green inner flower parts and 4×4 type flowers were found in most bigger populations.
More of the frequent types of snowdrops were found on the following days, 2×2, 4×4, green tips and even the occasional yellow (spoiler: it was stuck under some leaves). Blonde inge types were also quite frequent. The yellow on the inner flower parts often appearing as the snowdrop flowers turned old.
Most frequently seen variations over the next days (first three, i.e. excluding the yellow). The yellow flower was stuck under leaves, blonde inge type were frequently seen as flowers went over.
More snowdrop hunting.
As the second day commenced, we were once again welcomed by snowdrops near a small slope beside the road. In this case, the road itself proved to be the seasonal stream. A
A road as a snowdrop water supply
This next population was found in (abandoned) gardens above a small village (supra pagum, as in the aforementioned article).
Snowdrops, above a Corfu village
As we moved on from this site, we ended up at another site where the snowdrops could be seen growing on rocks with only leaf mulch and moss as a substrate.
Snowdrops growing on hardly any substrate (also see add. pic. 3)
Moving further on, another seasonal stream was found. In some locations the snowdrops were seen growing submerged in the water. Here, the cover of brambles was often nigh-impenetrable (see add. pic. 4, 5). It is almost fact that snowdrops should grow in well-draining soil, but reginae-olgae can at the very least resist occasional flooding. Nonetheless, more snowdrops were found beside streams where there would be no continual flooding, than within the streams.
As the end of the second day neared, we found a final site underneath a sloping olive grove. Again, here it can be seen how the snowdrops are usually only in indirect sunlight.
Non-clumping snowdrops in an olive grove.
Olive groves galore
The next day we visited additional olive groves, where we got treated to even more impressive vistas. Whereas in some locations the snowdrops tended to clump, in others the snowdrops appeared to have mostly spread by seed. There was no apparent cause for these differences, but it was interesting to note nonetheless.
A good clumper in an olive grove.
Near another olive grove, we found snowdrops that were flowering on (lime)stone stairways, confirming the surprisingly sparse soil requirements of the species.
Snowdrops on some stairs, because why not?
The snowdrops on Corfu seemed to love olive groves, growing en masse through the netting the farmers placed to catch the fruit. It left one to wonder how the plants fared when the netting was removed? Some looked to be absolutely entangled. Undoubtedly some plants would be getting damaged, but plenty appear to survive to continue to seed around.
Four pictures from the same grove (above).
An otherwise uneventful day
As we soon figured, snowdrops could indeed be found growing on Corfu from the lowlands to near the top of mount Pantokrator. Interestingly, we did not observe a marked difference in flowering time between lowland and highland populations. This might be due to arriving in November instead of the end of October, when probably only the earliest flowers have come up.
Despite this late arrival, we could observe pollinators such as bees and hoverflies as soon as weather allowed.
Bees were actually quite active in November when the weather allowed
When growing under tree cover other than olive trees, many deciduous trees seemed to fit the snowdrop-preferred habitat. I could often recognize chestnut and oak species. In one location we even found a big population underneath two walnut trees, leaving me to wonder if it may be wise to plant some reginae-olgae beneath my own garden Juglans. The plane tree (planatum), which is associated with reginae-olgae in the Taigetos, I did not recognize, but can likely be found on Corfu with snowdrops too, though probably in lower numbers.
Some pictures from an otherwise uneventful day
On the next to final day, we decided to see if the snowdrops on Pantokrator were still to be found.
It proved to be surprisingly cold on the top of Pantokrator, probably an additional help to the snowdrops growing there in summer time. As we arrived, a large part of the surrounding hills was partially clouded in mist, affording as a stunning view.
Yanik pondering the view in high wind conditions
As we drove across the Pantokrator top, Yanik recognized a site known to him. Although snowdrops could not be seen from the roadside, when we scaled the mountainside, they quickly sprung into view. The plants mostly occurred in the shading underneath small cliffs and shrubbery.
Snowdrops in high places
Having been born and raised on the flat polders and small dunes and dykes of the Netherlands, I quickly descended back to the road. To my surprise, when I turned back Yanik had continued ascending the mountain. My Swiss companion was eager to see if there were snowdrops on the top of the mountain. After a wait of about 20 minutes, Yanik returned triumphantly: “there are snowdrops underneath conifers on the top of Mount Pantokrator!”.
I can share no pictures of this wonderful view. As a Dutchman I definitely have no fear of height.. other than those heights I cannot see above of from my two legs..
I will instead share this panorama I took while waiting close to the road:
Leaving the island
Our last day on Corfu was spend revisiting some nice sites we had seen on the previous days, as well as trying to determine the maximum boundaries the species occurs on for the book of Yanik. As we traveled back to the airport, I felt a sense of satisfaction. We had probably seen somewhere over a hundred thousand snowdrops on the island in most shapes, colors and forms seen in cultivars of other species. There is plenty of potential in reginae-olgae, which means it is likely that in the future we can enjoy many different flower shapes from September onwards, as more cultivars are bred.
Stunning view olive grove view from an unexpected site on the final day.
I hope to continue seeing you all on the Wiki. If you like this article, please write or improve one article on the Wiki.
Additionally, if you enjoyed this article, consider buying the book from Yanik Neff in the future. It will feature more in-depth descriptions about reginae-olgae on Corfu, as well professional photographs. I will post a link as it becomes available. (small disclaimer: I do not profit from sales of this book.)
1. Snowdrops near the road on Corfu.
2. A site near a forest.
3. Snowdrops on rocks and leaf mulch.
4. Cats living from scavenging near garbage removal containers in front of some snowdrops that are growing under bramble.
5. More snowdrops in bramble cover.
6. Another olive grove.
7. Groves galore
8. Bees are excellent snowdrop pollinators
9. Snowdrops for dinner
10. Crocus boryi. (or Crocus boringyi as Yanik would have)
11. Some orchid
12. Legless lizard (not a snake)
13. Snowdrop and legless reptile (yes a snake)
15. PantoKrator kats
16. Cats everywhere, this one was stalking us for food at our place of stay. Probably had fleas (good luck Yanik).
17. Pumpkins on a roof
18. Charcoal production