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One of the first flowers to peek in the early spring is Galanthus nivalis which has a common name known as snowdrops. The emergence of this plant with white flowers hanging like a pendulum is a clear signal that winter is almost over. Common snowdrop sprouts naturally in the ground and spreads easily but you can also plant it in pots inside your homes.
- Scientific Name: Galanthus nivalis
- AKA: Common Snowdrop, Fair Maid of February
- Similar to: Snowflakes (Leucojum)
- Native to: Europe and Middle East
- Shape: Leaves form a basal rosette, flowers hang like pendulum
- Maximum Size: 0.25 to 0.5 feet in height, 0.25 to 0.5 feet in spread
- Watering Requirements: Light to moderate
- Light Requirements: Part-shade to full sun
- Preferred Humidity: Moderate
- Preferred Temperature: Needs cold period (at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but no colder than 30 degrees
- Soil or Potting Medium: Well-drained soil with alkaline pH
- Fertilizer: Light feeding
- Propagation Method: Division
- Toxicity: Toxic to humans and pets
- Vulnerable to: Bulb rot
Overview of Snowdrop Flowers
Galanthus nivalis or common snowdrop is the most popular species in the Galanthus genus. Belonging to the family Amaryllidaceae, this nivalis plant is related to the likes of daffodil (Narcissus), Agapanthus, onions, and chives (Allium). They’re characterized as having bulbs that serve as their storage organ below the ground.
This plant species is native to Europe and the Middle East. They’re quite easy to grow and require very low maintenance. In the US, it can thrive in a wide range of climatic conditions from hardiness zone 3 to zone 8.
Snowdrop galanthus plants may be used as a groundcover in the garden. They’re typically spread over flower beds and borders, patios, woodlands, and meadows.
Galanthus nivalis prefer a light condition that ranges from partial shade to full sun. It will best grow under deciduous trees where the leaves fall out during winter. That way, they need not compete for sunlight.
Indoors, however, you have to place it in a location near a window where light is partially reaching the leaves. Enough sunlight is needed to support the growth and development of your snowdrop.
Snowdrop rarely requires frequent watering when planted in the ground. When potted, you may have to water a little more since the potting media can hold limited amounts of moisture. Watering requirement ranges from low to moderate.
Remember to keep the soil moist but well-drained. Soggy soils will cause the bulbs to rot due to stagnant water. Apply water more frequently during summer and prevent the soil from getting dry.
Humidity & Temperature Preferences
Being a survivor plant, snowdrop can generally adapt to varying climate conditions including indoor temperature and humidity. However, it needs exposure to a cold period of at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but no colder than 30 degrees. This is also known as stratification.
The plant’s exposure to the cold period is necessary during bloom time. It helps your Galanthus nivalis produce those adorable white flowers. You can bring your plant outside when the temperature starts dropping.
Unlike your other indoor plants, snowdrops are most likely to survive against the snow. This plant has those anti-freeze proteins that prevent the development of ice crystals within their tissues. However, be wary of the temperature that reaches 30 degrees below zero as it can permanently damage snowdrops.
Plant Food and Potting Media
It’s crucial for Galanthus nivalis plant to have a well-draining potting medium that is rich in organic matter. It’s fine to use any commercial potting mix as long as it has good drainage. Test the soil’s pH and ensure that it ranges from neutral to alkaline.
Snowdrop plants are not heavy feeders. Apply a general, slow-release granular fertilizer at the time of planting. After that, the next feeding can be done during autumn. Water the bulbs with a soluble fertilizer so they will easily develop roots and grow new foliage.
Aside from the basic care and maintenance requirements, here are some additional guides on how to keep your G. nivalis plant healthy and flourishing.
Galanthus nivalis will naturally drop its leaves when the foliage starts to die down. The bulbs, however, remain intact so the plants will regrow in time. This is a natural process as snowdrops go dormant after flowering.
Pruning is not really necessary but you can pinch off the dead leaves occasionally to keep the plant neat. Cut back the plant down to the base after all the leaves have turned brown.
The newly bought Galanthus plant should be repotted immediately. Find a suitable container with a size proportional to that of your snowdrop. Fill it in with a fresh potting mix and plant your snowdrop there.
After two to three years, you may transfer your Galanthus to a larger container. If the bulbs have multiplied faster, you may repot it every year. Do this after the white flowers have dropped and the leaves are still green.
Normally, repotting a Galanthus nivalis is accompanied by propagation.
You can easily propagate a Galanthus nivalis plant by dividing the clumps of bulbs. After the flowering time, find a snowdrop that’s four to five years old and dig it up. Carefully divide them so each clump has at least four to five bulbs.
Plant the individual smaller clumps in separate containers. Use a fresh, humus-rich potting mix as a medium. Water the soil thoroughly then drain.
Pests and Diseases
G. nivalis plant is not much affected by pests. It’s even deer resistant. However, it is susceptible to bulb rot which may happen when there’s no good drainage.
A waterlogged soil may cause the bulb and its roots to drown. It may also invite the growth of harmful organisms such as pathogens. In short, common snowdrops can get susceptible to diseases when the soil is always wet.
Types of Galanthus
Other than the popular G. nivalis plant, there are other species of Galanthus genus that can be found planted in the gardens. Here are some of them and their unique description:
This species is known as a giant snowdrop. This is because it produces large white flower than G. nivalis. It can also better withstand hot weather. Its flowering season is from February to April.
Another term for this species is Crimean snowdrop. It produces larger white flowers too which is characterized by having a green, upside-down heart marking on its inner petals.
This species is commonly known as green snowdrop because of the tiny green dot that can be found in its inner petals. Its foliage has a relatively broader spread as compared with the other snowdrop species.
G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’
Flore Peno another type of Galanthus nivalis but is distinct for having double nodding flowers. On the inner petals, you’ll find a green teardrop-shaped marking.
This one is a hybrid snowdrop. Characterized for being tall and vigorous, Atkinsii has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Regardless of how charmed you get by the white flower during early spring, keep in mind that this plant is poisonous. Galanthus nivalis can endanger your health as well as that of your pets when ingested. Phenanthridine alkaloids can be found in the plant’s leaves, stems, and bulbs.
A poisoned pet will exhibit drooling, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, incoordination, drop in blood pressure and heart rate, and seizures. It may also cause skin irritation when handled improperly. Make sure to use gloves when touching the plant especially the bulb.
If you wish to be greeted by an early flowering in your garden after the winter, then, grow snowdrops early this year. This plant will surely make a good attraction particularly after the long months of the cold season. With nothing much to worry about care and maintenance, the G. nivalis plant is surely a perfect choice for you.
Is a snowdrop the same as a snowflake?
Although they look almost similar, snowdrops and snowflakes are entirely different from each other. Snowflakes are taller than snowdrops. Snowflakes produce flowers only when the spring season is officially starting, that’s in April. G. nivalis blooms in late winter beginning February.
Snowflakes have more than one flower in each stem while G. nivalis have only one.
Is Galanthus nivalis toxic?
If you’re planting G. nivalis indoors, take it with great caution. This plant, no matter how innocent looking it may appear, is a toxic one. The stems, leaves, and particularly the bulbs contain phenanthridine alkaloids.
Once ingested, certain symptoms such as drooling, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, incoordination, drop in blood pressure and heart rate, and seizures may happen. Skin irritation is also a possibility. Make sure to carefully handle your G. nivalis.
Why is my Galanthus nivalis foliage dying down?
If this is happening after the bloom season of your plant, then it’s normal. Your G. nivalis is entering a dormant period. Each green leaf will turn brown until the entire foliage drops.
Do not cut the leaves yet at this point. Leave them be so they can produce the energy needed by the bulb. The stored energy is important for the plant as it enters dormancy for the rest of the year.