Now that the days are getting longer Snowdrops are starting to appear in the Physic Garden. They may be found in clumps pushing up through the grass in the orchard and opening into pendulous bell-shaped white flowers.
Galanthus nivalis is the common snowdrop. It is the best-known and most widespread of the 20 species in its genus. The generic name was given by Linnaeus taken from the Greek gala (milk) and anthos (flower) and nivalis meaning 'of the snow'.
Although often thought of as a British native wild flower, or to have been brought to the British Isles by the Romans, it is now thought that it was probably introduced much later, perhaps around the early sixteenth century. It is widely grown in gardens, particularly in Northern Europe and is widely naturalised in woodlands in the regions where it is grown.
It is a perennial, herbaceous plant which grows from a bulb. Each bulb produces two linear greyish-green leaves and an erect flowering stalk about 7-15 cm tall. This bears a solitary bell shaped white flower held on a slender pedicel. These flowers are characterised by six tepals, the outer three are larger and more convex than the inner three which are marked with an inverted green V. Flowering takes place between January and April.
Snowdrops contain an active substance called galantamine which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.