February:The Snowdrop Month

PUBLISHED: 11:15 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013



They have some lovely local names: February-Fair-Maids and Dingle Bells in Somerset; Snowdroppers in Gloucestershire; Candlemas Bells in Wiltshire.

But some Derbyshire folk called them Death's Flower because they are often to be seen in churchyards and are believed to bring bad luck, even foretell a death, if brought into the house. In some parts of the country single flowers especially are viewed as death-tokens. Even today many country people will not take snowdrops indoors, and the sight of a single snowdrop blooming in the garden is taken as a sign of an impending disaster.

I hope they aren't called Death's Flower by anyone today because in folklore they are also considered to represent the passing of sorrow and be symbols of hope as they are one of the earliest heralds of spring. This is the time of the year when we need to be cheered by the prospect of spring - and snowdrops do just that. Blankets of them, particularly in deciduous woodland, cocking a snook at winter by poking their flowers above the ground before the leaves of the trees starve the woodland floor of light.

Snowdrop doesn't seem to have been a commonly used name for the plant until the end of the seventeenth century. Whoever chose the plant's botanical name - Galanthus nivalis - must have wanted to leave no doubt that the flower was white: gala comes from the Greek for milk, anthos is Greek for flower and nivalis means snow-like in Latin.

As well as cheering us up during dismal February days, we owe a big debt of gratitude to snowdrops for providing us with a valuable drug. During the 1950s a Bulgarian pharmacologist noticed people rubbing their foreheads with snowdrop leaves and bulbs to ease pain. This led to the publication in 1951 of a paper by two Russians who gave the first description of the alkaloid galantamine that occurs in several members of the amaryllidaceae family of plants, which includes snowdrops. The alkaloid was first isolated principally from the Caucasian snowdrop and Galantamine, marketed under several trade names, is a medicine used today for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

If you are still not sure about having snowdrops in your house here are a few tips. Nothing untoward will happen if you bring them in in bunches: but single flowers can bring bad luck. If you keep poultry never bring the flowers into the house whilst hens are sitting on eggs or they won't hatch. And girls - if you don't want to get married this year don't bring any snowdrops into the house until after St Valentine's Day.

All a bit complicated? Then grow them in bowls and you won't have any problems.

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