Galanthus reginae-olgae

Ian Gillam, one of UBC Botanical Garden’s Friends of the Garden, is the author of today’s entry, as well as the photographer. Thank you Ian!

Snowdrops (Galanthus) are small bulbous plants. They produce pairs of mostly strap-shaped leaves and a single, hanging flower on a short scape. All of the 19 species currently recognized have white flowers (Galanthus means “milk flower”) with green markings. Details of these markings, whether the leaves are green, glaucous or glaucescent and whether they lie flat against each other at their base or are folded together at the margins help to differentiate species found in different habitats. They occur from western Europe into the westernmost side of Asia.

In suitable areas, in the wild or in gardens, snowdrops, notably the common Galanthus nivalis, multiply steadily. Open deciduous woodland in mid-northern Europe can become carpeted with plants, a spectacle in earliest springtime. Among such large populations, a careful observer can sometimes find variants in markings, in size and shape of flower and in season of bloom. These variants have been collected over a considerable period of time by enthusiasts (galanthophiles). Where several species are in cultivation the chances of variation are increased by hybridization and many named cultivars are presumed to be of hybrid origin. A very few show markings in yellow rather than green and also have yellow ovaries. These have proven demanding to grow but newer examples are promised to be more vigorous, though still rare.

Snowdrops bloom over a long period and individual flowers last a long time in the garden, in part directly due to the cold conditions at blooming time but no doubt due also to the paucity of pollinating insects and the unfavorable weather for their activity.

Not all snowdrops bloom in late winter or early spring. Today’s subject is Galanthus reginae-olgae, whose flowers open in late October or early November before the leaves are fully emerged. It is native to Sicily, former Yugoslavia and to Greece where it was named for that country’s Queen Olga (1851-1926), grand-daughter, cousin and niece of Russian Tsars. She married the second King of modern Greece. Among their grandchildren is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

The queen’s snowdrop has alternated between being considered a subspecies of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and being a species in its own right. It is an interesting plant, blooming as it does at an unexpected time. It can be grown outdoors in Vancouver but is safer grown under protection from our wet winters, at least until more plants are available. Forms distinguished as Galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis delay their blooming until spring and are thus more similar to Galanthus nivalis.

Another species, differing in its narrow, greener leaves, also blooms in late autumn. This is Galanthus peshmenii, native to Turkey. Its bulbs, flowers and leaves are slightly smaller.

Galanthus reginae-olgae

9 responses to “Galanthus reginae-olgae”

  1. Daniel Mosquin

    I should point out — Ian originally wrote this entry with a note that Galanthus is in the Amaryllidaceae. The latest version of the APG classification (version III) combines the Amaryllidaceae, Agapanthaceae and Alliaceae into one large family, the Alliaceae.

  2. Sheila

    I am green with envy. Attempts at growing these have failed miserably, due to slugs! Galanthus nivalis do well, as they flower when the slugs are “asleep”.
    Thank you for such a lovely pic.

  3. Carol

    Sheila – try coffee grounds for the slugs. Just sprinkle them over your bulbs. I’m in slug country here in Seattle and coffee grounds work beautifully. Adds a little nitrogen too! I have lots of snowdrops – several species/varieties too.

  4. elizabeth a airhart

    are we not lovely
    a delight to find a promise of spring time
    as the days grow short and cold
    cold climate has a nice
    picture and write up
    thank you ian lovely photo and fine write up
    bon jour daniel

  5. Connie

    Thank you for sharing Olga with us- at first I thought you were rushing the season as I had no Idea any Snowdrops would bloom in Autumn!
    How do you get a black background in this lovely photo? I think I see a sumac leaf, cut leaf Japanese maple, and ginkgo beneath your flower.

  6. Jonna

    Lovely plant and photo shot too.

  7. Leanne

    Beautiful shot. Would love to hear how you composed it-was it taken indoors or out? Black background?

  8. Daniel Mosquin

    Most likely this was done with a black cloth in the background, probably 2-3m away from the flowers so that the material of the cloth blurs into total blackness (there are other possibilities, but that is the most likely technique)

  9. mary elabarger

    Galanthus is probably my favorite bulb! I think the green design is a heart – The photo is spectacular. Mine don’t multiply, they keep disappearing. Any thoughts why? Thank you!

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