The Snowdrop Detective

snowdrop.detectiveWith three stray snowdrops found last year and potted up into little lattice pots before being replanted with ‘unknown galanthus’ labels, as well as at least two clumps emerging this year which may or may not be snowdrops, I have been keeping my Snowdrop Detective Hat handy to assist identification when clues emerged. The first clue was in the leaves, although I was completely ignorant of differences in snowdrop leaves until acquiring Gunter Waldorf’s ‘Snowdrop’ book last year – but now identification of applanate (like praying hands) and volute (wrapped round each other) foliage and the folded edge leaves of plicatus varieties are a great start in identifying snowdrops, and especially if you know what varieties you started with. It was with unusual foresight that I kept a list of the snowdrops I purchased (including when and where), something I have not done for any other plants!

My first ‘specials’ were bought at an open garden in 2005, adding to these from specialist nurseries the following year before getting too involved with Work to think much more about them until 2012, when my collection expanded exponentially from the first 15 and became what it is now. I hope to  restrict additions to a few extra each year but the temptation is strong as many other bloggers know, although the idea of exchanging varieties with fellow enthusiasts is a sensible one. After disturbing mine in 2012 by digging up and selling a few ‘spares’ most of them sulked last year, so I have since given them plenty of TLC in the hope that I will be forgiven – every day new white buds are evident so it looks as if I am!

So, with my Detective Hat on I watched the applanate leaves of the snowdrop on the left as they emerged, but can now see that they have a bit of a kink in them so am pretty confident that this is G. gracilis and once the flower opens I should be able to confirm this. My gracilis dates from 2006 but lost its label and this seems to be a stray bulb from a little clump I rediscovered two years ago. The leaves of the snowdrop on the right, however, are volute (G elwessii being the best-known example); the contenders for this, snowdrops owned but lost, are G elwesii hiemalis and G woronowii, and again the flowers will determine which it is. My money is on the hiemalis, as the opposition was new in 2012 and planted in a lattice pot (as all the specials are now) so unlikely to be a stray, whereas I have not been aware of the hiemalis for a long time.

IMG_1028Exciting times – if you are interested in snowdrops that is! To show I am not completely suffering from tunnel vision I donned my makeshift armour this afternoon to tie in ‘Parkdirektor Riggers’ on the wires strung up for that purpose. He did not take kindly to being forced to lie down instead of leaping skywards and thrashed around somewhat, but with judicial pruning he will eventually be tamed. Although not raining it felt damp, a chilly dampness not conducive to gentle gardening and requiring something more vigorous like digging to take the edge off the coldness, but no digging was required and I retired inside to pursue warmer activities.

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14 Responses to The Snowdrop Detective

  1. Liz says:

    Hi Cathy,

    Good luck with your Snowdrop IDs; hopefully won’t be too long now before they are blooming.
    I still haven’t expanded my snowdrop collection beyond flore pleno and Nivalis… I want to, but I’m scared that if I do, I might just go crazy with them.

    It was far too cold to do much outside today! I hope tomorrow is a little warmer again.

    • Cathy says:

      Hi Liz, yes it is so easy to get sucked in so you are being very sensible, as it may only start with one…. It’s definitely the time of year as it doesn’t happen so readily with plants flowering at other times!

  2. Hi Cathy,
    I have inherited masses of snowdrops with this garden, but have not yet started to try and identify them. I think the book you mentioned might be a good idea. I suspect that most are flora pleno or nivalis, but there may be some rarities if I know what to look for. I had no idea that even the leaves can give a clue. Please carry on posting about snowdrop identification – it is just what I need to get me started this year!

    • Cathy says:

      Hi Julie – there are hundreds of different varieties, some very distinctive and others very similar but with minuscule differences, some of them having been found growing amongst the ‘ordinary’ ones, whilst others have resulted from deliberate cross-breeding, so do have a look amongst yours. I have the ‘Galanthomania’ book as well and a new snowdrop book on order, and they all identify lots of different varieties but the GW book was the first place I had read about the leaves.

  3. Pauline says:

    Lucky you being able to be outside today, we’ve had nothing but torrential rain again, I’ll be growing webbed feet at this rate!
    Galanthus woronowii has bright green leaves which look so different from other snowdrops, I hope this helps with your identification.

    • Cathy says:

      Sorry about your rain Pauline – although damp, we haven’t had any really heavy rain but still enough for the local rivers to break their banks and some roads to be flooded. How about you? I bought some more woronowii at the end of last snowdrop season so I have a ready comparison but the new ones are only just coming through and as you say I expect them to be distinctively different. Thanks for that.

  4. Anna says:

    I know what you mean about tunnel vision Cathy 🙂 I’m living, breathing and sleeping snowdrops at the moment but would not eat them even if I could. As Pauline says not only are the leaves of woronowii bright green but they are also shiny and broad so it’s easy to identify unlike some others I could mention. Is it Freda Cox’s book that’s en route to you?

    • Cathy says:

      Whew – I feel better for hearing your confession 🙂 Yes, it is Freda Cox’s book – hadn’t come across it until you mentioned it, so thanks for that too!

  5. bittster says:

    The map looks good. I always like when things are all laid out and there’s a plan and all your ducks are lined up. I sometimes get close, but then do things like forget where I put the scraps of paper or forget that I meant to write something down when I get back inside! A newer mess is when I take a picture or make a note on my phone….. as if I’ll ever be able to find it again!

    • Cathy says:

      It’s only a month or so since I drew up the map, but I have referred to it so many times since then so it is already proving invaluable. I can’t conceive ever wanting to do the same for elsewhere in the garden, but who knows, given a period of enforced idleness…. 🙂

  6. Chloris says:

    Snowdrop time is such an exciting time but also frustrating to gardeners because we need to know the names and I bet most of us have many unidentified ones. Elwesii are easy to recognise but they vary so and there are so many named varieties. Gracilis is easy with those curvy leaves and Woronowii with the bright green leaves, but then doesn’t Allenii have green leaves too? Plicatus is easy with the folded leaves but once you start trying to identify the markings on the flowers you drive yourself crazy. Good luck with the detective work.

    • Cathy says:

      Because I know exactly what I started with (and what I have lost!) it narrows the field tremendously, although there may be odd strays which got detached from a clump when I was rearranging two years ago. It’s also an advantage to have them all in lattice pots now as they can no longer stray! I had rediscovered 3 of the strays last year but they didn’t flower so I couldn’t identify them – it makes the watching and waiting even more exciting! 🙂

  7. wellywoman says:

    I don’t have any special snowdrops and mine are only just starting to poke through. Although I spotted some in town the other day in full bloom. I wonder if we would love snowdrops so much if they flowered at a different time of year. They are gorgeous but I think most of us are so desperate for signs of new life by January that the popularity of snowdrops is boosted by this. 😉

    • Cathy says:

      I have no doubt whatsoever that you are right about this, WW – come the end of February or early March my own snowdrop obsession is beginning to wane and will not reappear until the end of December or so. They have competition this year though as the witch hazels are so stunning and I have found an open hellebore bud today! It is reassuring, however, that there are many others with a similar obsession 😉

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