The crocuses have been out for a little while, as mentioned in this post here. Last week the snowdrops joined them. Little droplets of white huddled together in clusters by the garden fence. Their posh name is Galanthus which is Greek for ‘milk flower’.
It is a common flower across Europe, introduced to the UK in the sixteenth century, and is a welcome sign of spring. Their seeds are particularly tasty to ants, who in turn re-distribute them. Snowdrops also provide nectar for bumblebees and other insects waking from hibernation.
An alternative name for snowdrops is Candlemas bells, as they tend to appear at the start of February to coincide with the Christian festival of light. In Pagan times this was the festival of Imbolc, half way between the winter and spring equinoxes. This was a fire festival celebrated by lighting candles and marked the beginning of the lambing season. The snowdrop is the symbol of the fertility goddess Brigid who was honoured at Imbolc; she was later transformed into St Bridget.
Traditionally snowdrops are not picked to be displayed indoors as they are considered unlucky. Due to their white, shroud-like tepals and their proximity to the ground, they are associated with the dead. During World War II, the British referred to US military police as “snowdrops” because they wore white helmets.
Renowned nature lover, daffodil fan and poet, William Wordsworth saw fit to mention the humble snowdrop in his Two-Part Ballad 1888, the entirety of which you can read here, but this is the relevant part:
My story early, feeling, as I fear,
The weakness of a human love for days
Disowned by memory, ere the birth of spring
Planting my snowdrops among winter snows
To wrap things up, here are some more photographs of the crocuses now that the blooms have opened up.