Snowdrops are tiny plants that bear white flowers that hang downwards in a dropping manner. As the name states, the flowers are found growing around the end of winter.
These small delicate-looking plants are among the very early spring plants that start blooming before spring season arrives, making its appearance in the latter parts of winter and withstanding the cold climate, snow, and winds.
Snowdrops have an interesting history as well as very many tales and superstitions associated with them. Where some say Snowdrops are symbols of Hope, some say they are bringers of bad luck and misfortune.
About the Snowdrops:
Snowdrops belong to genus – Galanthus of the family – Amaryllidaceae. The scientific nomenclature of the common Snowdrop is – Galanthus nivalis. The plants are usually very small varying from 3 to 6-inch height.
The plant has narrow linear leaves and bears small milky white flowers. A usual plant has 2 narrow leaves and produces a flower that hangs downwards similar to “drop”. The flowers have 2 layers of petals, 3 in each layer.
The outer layer with 3 petals blooms and arches out facing down and is milky white in color. The 3 inner petals are smaller and have green markings.
The name for this plant was derived from Greek words – “gala” meaning milk and “anthos” meaning flower. The name Galanthus was given to this plant in 1753. “Nivalis” in Latin stands for snow-like, describing the white color of the flowers that plant bears.
Where are Snowdrops found?
Snowdrops widely grow in regions with cold winter and moderate winters. Snowdrops do not grow well in hotter climates and regions with comparatively warmer winters.
These plants with bulbous white flowers are widely vegetated in Europe and are native to the same. It has also been widely introduced and made naturally in many other regions.
The plant commonly grows well in woodland and in acidic or alkaline soil conditions.
When does snowdrop grow?
Snowdrops, as mentioned earlier are among the earliest spring bulbs to bloom. They emerge through the snow during the near end of winters.
Snowdrops blooming in the snow are one of the first signs of the arrival of the spring season. This tiny milk flower clustered plants emerge in harsh weather conditions in which most other plants cannot bloom.
Snowdrops have very amusing adaptive characteristics and physical features that help the plant to come up during the harsh winter from amidst the snow. The short stems of the plant are made tougher by the covering of the narrow, hard and protective leaves that wrap around the stem, hence, when the flowers are to bloom, the Snowdrop can easily push its way through the winter snow and rise up.
These plants emerge between January to March varying from place to place depending on climate and duration of winter. Snowdrops last throughout the spring season and slowly begin to wither to the grounds by the end of the season.
The Snowdrops grow back every year during the late winter. They are also the first flowers of the year to bloom, marking the end of winter and a new beginning to a milder, brighter and greener season.
Symbolism of the Snowdrop:
As we found out, that Snowdrops grow during late winters when there’s still snow and is among the very first spring blooms to appear, thus it is associated with the end of the harsh cold and upcoming of a better time – Springtime.
As Snowdrops are symbols to the transformation of winter into spring, thus they are said to represent Hope and new beginnings.
They state that the tough times are going to end soon and better days are arriving and bringing warmth and happiness in our lives.
The Snowdrop beholds the ability to melt the snow surrounding itself by the heat it possesses, that is also the reason of relating the
quality of being warm along with bringing hope which comes from its blossoming time and the underlying conditions.
Where some say that Snowdrops are lucky as they represent Hope and arrival of good times, others argue that the plant portray and radiate misfortune and are unlucky.
Snowdrops are associated with expressions of hope, good luck, optimism, purity, etc. The way Snowdrops spring up in the harsh snowy weather is incentivizing to mankind.
Thus, the plant is said to spread courage and confidence and to lift up low spirits. It is also believed to relieve us from pain and grudges of the past and rise up from such times to better days with cheer and new opportunity.
Whereas, other beliefs state that because of the low growth pattern of the plant and their blooming in cemeteries, they are harbingers of death. Bringing the flower home would bring bad luck and unforeseen conditions in the future.
Tales about Snowdrops:
There are a number of stories revolving around the legend of the Snowdrop. All these intriguing tales contribute to the various superstitions and ideas that are connected to the tiny plant. Some of the many believed and popular tales are:
A legend from mythology says that when God was creating life and the world, he had six days to complete the creations. A lot of decisions and tasks had to be paid attention to.
All things and each creature had to be given different and unique characteristics in nature. Everything had to be assigned colors and therefore there was a shortage of colors to be associated with things.
Due to the shortage of colors and haste in creating the world, the snow and wind were left colorless. God had to pay attention to various other elements in nature and left snow and wind without any hue.
Snow denied to accept this and thus refused to withdraw itself even after the winter was over. Forests, mountains, land, and everything else remained covered in snow.
To bring an end to this mayhem, God suggested snow to ask the plants to give it color. The plants refused to consider this proposal placed by snow. Out of despair, snow, along with the wind began to refute in nature, and
together they brought heavy snowstorms on Earth. A plant with small white flowers pitied the fate of snow and offered to give to it, her white color.
The snow was more than grateful to this tiny flower and thought that its white color was special and pleasing.
This is how snow accepted the color and became white. The good deed by little flower was rewarded in spite of her modesty.
This plant with the generous white flower came to be known as the Snowdrop and she was rewarded by the allowance of life during winters. The Snowdrop became the only flower to bloom in the snow.
This story symbolizes the sympathetic and generous nature of the flower which gave the plant its fate of blooming in the snow, for having shown kindness to it.…
There is yet another amusing tale from ancient times about Snowdrops and its origin. Adam and Eve had once eaten the fruit and disobeyed the norms of God.
As punishment for their deed, God punished them by forbidding them from the beautiful Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sat outside the garden is despair, away from all the beauties of nature.
Away from the garden was no such beauty but forlorn wilderness all around, with no flowers that blossomed or no birds that sang, and the Earth was dry and devoid of its natural ornaments.
The trees bore no fruit, all the grass was dry and the weather was harsh. The snow never stopped falling.
Adam and Eve reminisced about the splendid aura of the Garden of Eve and longed its beauty and lovely ambiance. They sobbed and shivered in the snow and lamented upon their mistake.
God pitied Eve when she sat crying outside the Garden of Eden and sent an angel to look upon them. The angel went down to Eve to console her.
The angel took snowflakes in her hand and commanded them to turn into flowers when they touched the Earth’s surface. The snowflakes transformed into pretty white flowers when they landed on Earth. Eve was joyous at the sight of the tiny beautiful white flowers around.
The angel told Eve that these Snowdrops were a sign that summer and warmth will return along with goodness in her life. The Snowdrops became an emblem for hope of wellness. Like the angel had promised, the Snowdrops emerged from the snow and bloomed, marking the end of winter and beginning of a beautiful spring.
The splendor of the Snowdrop has also been mentioned in the epic poem – Odyssey, by Homer. In the poem, Ulysses was given an herb by Hermes – the god of Mercury, called Moly.
The Moly was said to cure and fight against the forgetfulness poison of the witch Circe. It worked and destroyed the Amnesia that had taken over the crew of Ulysses. The Moly was actually the Snowdrop which cured forgetfulness.
The flip side of the Belief:
Despite so many glorious tales and stories that praise the Snowdrop, it is still considered by many throughout various places to be a bad omen and is said to be unlucky. The tiny milky white flowers which are said to symbolize Hope do have loathers as well.
These plants prefer shady areas such as woodlands and thus are extensively found growing upon graves in clusters. This is from where the superstition arises that Snowdrops are an omen of death.
The tiny white flowers that carpet the churchyards of Britain receive a darker approach to folklore as well. According to Victorian beliefs, it is often narrated that the Snowdrop if brought indoors, will carry with them – misfortune, bad luck or even at times – death in the family within the span of a year.
Many even hold onto a belief that if a Snowdrop is plucked and taken inside the house, one may even be widowed from the unlucky the vibe of the flowers.
Other superstitions blindly give into misconceptions and false facts which state that bringer these flowers in the house would turn milk sour and rot eggs.
The resemblance of the flower to shrouds also contributes to the association of it to bad luck. For this reason, even touching a snowdrop was meant to be unlucky.
Various such superstitions exist even to this day. Believing in these depends from person to person and their mindsets. These beliefs that do not let the flowers to be plucked do have a beneficial side as well. The plants usually stay unhampered and grow without interference by man.
Snowdrops are poisonous on direct consumption but are of great medicinal value.
As stated in Homer’s Odyssey, the flowers are actually used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The bulb of the plant contains alkaloid galantamine which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
The plant also treats various other ailments related to the nervous system like traumatic injuries. Snowdrops are a remedial herb and can also activate the menses.
The Lectin of the Snowdrop is being researched upon to find out its working ability to treat HIV.
Many species of the Snowdrop are grown in medicinal plant gardens to facilitate its usage in the treatment of different diseases.
Snowdrops in the world of Literature:
The tales and meanings of the Snowdrop have also led it to the world of Literature. Various texts find the mention of this beautiful little bud along with lines of appreciation.
Various poets have inculcated in their writings, the description of this milky white flower praising its characteristics and nature. Some of the many include:
– To a Snowdrop- William Wordsworth
– The Snowdrop- Mary Darby
– Craving for spring- D.H. Lawrence
– The Silver Lilly-Louise Gluck
– Snowdrop Blaze-Rg Gregory
– Next year’s Spring- Von Goethe
– The Lost Mistress- Robert Browning
The Snowdrop is truly a sign of hope and good times, as even with superstitions that surround it to devalue its beauty, despite all the loathsome appeals and negative remarks, the little snowy white flowers hanging down the tiny plant survives and makes its way through the world’s beliefs to spread beauty and joy, just like it makes its way through the freezing snow to mark the onset of a beautiful spring.
With all the stories, tales, qualities, uses and nature of the flower, Snowdrops are truly intimidating species of the plant family in nature.