Galanthus genus

All galanthus species are part of the Amaryllicaceae family, which is named after the Amaryllis genus from South-Africa. Notable other members of this family include daffodils (Narcissus), Sternbergia, Hippeastrum, Clivia and of course the closely related genera of Leucojum and Acis. Snowdrops differ from the Leucojum and Acis genera by the fact that they have an inner and outer rows of 3 petals, as well as single flowers per scape (although notable cultivars exist for which this does not apply). The inner row of petals forms a downward-pointed cup.

The name of the genus means Milkflower, deriving from Greek ‘Gala’ for milk and ‘Anthos’ for flower (1). All species grow from bulbs and are herbaceous perennials. About 20 species are known to occur. Snowdrops have a high quantity of a substance called Galantamine, a compound known to have an effect against Alzheimer’s disease. Galantamine is more usually isolated from Daffodils, which although containing a lower concentration, grow more readily with larger plants.

Vernation type and species
The different species can be recognised by arrangement of the leaves and how they are folded in the emerging bud. This emergence of leaves is known as vernation, from ‘vernal’ meaning spring, being the moment this happens in temperate regions.  For example, the common snowdrop g. nivalis has leaves that are pressed flat against each other as they emerge from the bud in a pattern known as applanate vernation. G. plicatus shows another type of vernation, whereby the leaves are pressed flat against each other, but also rolled back at the edges. G. elwesii emerges with leaves folded around each other in the bud, a pattern known as supervolute vernation. Finally, G. reginae-olgae is closely related to G. nivalis, and also shows the applanate vernation pattern. Reginae-olgae distinguishes itself from nivalis by its prominent silver-grey stripe in the center of its leaves.

Vernation type Species
Applanate G. nivalis, G. reginae-olgae*, G. angustifolius, G. cilicicus, G. grazilis, G. ikariae, G. lagodechianus, G. peshmenii, G. rizehensis, G. trojanus
Plicate G. plicatus
Supervolute G. elwesii, G. alpinus, G. fosteri, G. koenenianus, G. krasnovii, G. panjutinii, G. platyphyllus, G. woronowii, G. transcaucasicus

* Some experts consider G. reginae-olgae to have revolute leaves, meaning the leaves are rolled downward at the margins (2).

  1. Gail Harland. Snowdrop. 2016 Reaktion Books.
  2. Galanthus. The alpine garden society Encyclopaedia.
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