The small, pretty white flowers known as snowdrops are enjoyed for their beauty, but people also look forward to seeing them grow each year for another significant reason. A blooming snowdrop means spring is on its way. As one of the first plants to bloom when winter moves into spring, snowdrops are the bright little messengers that tell everyone the long winter is coming to an end.
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Snowdrops are bulb perennials that emerge as early as January or February. They produce two or three 6-inch narrow leaves of a deep, dark green. The flower blooms on a separate leafless stalk, which droops downward at the end on a thin stem. The small, delicate white blooms have three outer petal-like sepals and three white inner petals, surrounded by green markings. Snowdrops emit an appealing sweet, honey-like scent.
The common name of snowdrop obviously refers to the plant’s white delicately drooping blooms that resemble little droplets, and its scientific name, Galanthus nivalis, refers to its appearance as well. The name comes from the Greek “gala” meaning milk and “anthos” meaning flower. “Nivalis” is from the Latin meaning snowy.
Because the snowdrop is the first of the spring flowers to appear while the weather is still cold, it suitably symbolises consolation and hope. In fact, the snowdrop has been called the “flower of hope.” The white blooms of the snowdrop also represent purity and cleansing.
Snowdrops grow wild in Europe and Southwest Asia, and they can be easily cultivated in gardens. They grow in most types of soils as long it is a moist, well-drained area, but they do prefer rich soil. Snowdrops grow well in light shade, and should be planted early in the fall season about 2 to 3 inches deep and 2 to 4 inches apart. Once the bulbs have been planted, they can be left alone to grow for years to come.
Snowdrops and other plants from the Amaryllidaceae family have a naturally occurring substance in them called galantamine, which is sold as a medication for Alzheimer’s disease under the name of Reminyl. The medication works by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which has been found to be low in people with Alzheimer’s. Galantamine also helps to improve the functioning of the brain’s receptors. Although galantamine is found in many plants, the substance was first isolated from the snowdrop.
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