The ancient snowdrop plantation in Robins Grove is starting to show the early signs of spring, and that means hundreds of snowdrops! Arboretum Manager Ian tells us what makes these delicate flowers so special...

One of the first flowers of the year, the snowdrop is one of our most endearing blooms.

Known commonly by several different names, the Genus was officially named 'Galanthus' in 1753 by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Galanthus translates as 'milk flower'.

Snowdrops can start to appear as early as January and can flower as late as April. Not only does their appearance remind us that spring is just around the corner, these delicate little flowers are full of surprises.

Snowdrop pollen and nectar is an early feast for many bees. The green stripes inside the flowers are like landing lights guiding them to one of the only restaurants open this early in the season.

When temperatures reach 10C (50F) and above, the outer petals open up revealing the nectar inside. When temperatures fall the petal shield closes and protects the nectar. Nature is rather clever as this routine is perfect for bumblebees who come out of hibernation when temperatures rise above, you guessed it, 10C.

Here at Marks Hall Estate you can find a carpet of snowdrops decorating Robins Grove in our North America zone. It is home to several different varieties, although by far our largest contingent are double snowdrops Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno'. These do not set seed and spread only from offsets. As this is a very slow process, we can confidently say that these snowdrops must have been here for hundreds of years.

There are over 600 varieties of snowdrop but they all have one thing in common - they love moist, rich soils in semi shade. That's why woodlands are their ideal hiding place.

Other varieties within Robins Grove include G. elwesii, G. woronowii, G. ikariae, G. nivalis and G. 'S.Arnott.

The Arboretum Team each year lift, split and replant groupings, ensuring the carpet of snowdrops looks better every year.

Fast facts

  • Snowdrops were actually named after earrings, and not drops of snow. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries women often wore white drop shaped earrings known as 'ear drops'.
  • Other common names for the snowdrop are Fair maids of February, Candlemass bells, Little sisters of the snow, and White ladies.
  • Snowdrops and their bulbs are poisonous to humans.
  • Snowdrops contain a natural anti-freeze. Even if they collapse in freezing weather they recover once the temperature rises.
  • Snowdrops are used in medicine to help people. Galamantine extracted from snowdrops is used in a treatment to slow down dementia in Alzheimer’s disease.

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