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Spring Snowflakes (Leucojum vernum)

Spring Snowflakes (Leucojum vernum)

Although it is the first week of March, it is still deep winter here in Brooklyn…but the days are starting to grow longer and there is a certain fresh new quality to the sunlight.  The birds in the backyard are getting feistier as they stake out territories & mates.  Also, this year, like every year, the squirrels have eaten all of the Christmas lights (which they do as their winter provisions run out).  Nature is taking a deep breath as it prepares for the coming spring (although I would hardly be surprised if there are a few more blizzards in the hopper this year).

My old enemies have at least survived the killing snows and ice

My old enemies have at least survived the killing snows and ice

Every year at this time I begin looking around desperately for the first blossoms and blooms of the coming spring…and every year there is nothing for many more weeks (or months).   The plants are not fooled and know to keep underground until the season is warmer, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about the first flowers and trees to bloom.  In years past I have blogged about crocuses, redbuds, hellebores, and primroses.  To start out my garden topic for 2014, I will blog about a tiny inconspicuous flower I have not yet tried to grow, the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum).

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Spring snowflakes originally come from central and southern Europe.  Their natural range starts in the Pyrenees and stretches east to Romania and Russia.  Spring snowflakes sprout in March about a week or two after snowdrops (which are unrelated, despite the common name).  They grow 15-20 cm tall (6-8 in) tall and sport a lovely white bell-shaped flowers which have tiny green or yellow spots at the end of each tepal.  Spring snowflakes can naturalize in great drifts–which makes them popular to gardeners and they have been brought from Europe to other similar temperate regions (like the east coast of America).

Drifts of spring snowflakes

Drifts of spring snowflakes

In the wild, however they live in deep fairytale forests of Germany and central Europe where the wistful beauty of the tiny bells has given them a place in art and folklore.  Although the flowers are tiny and fragile, they contain the highly toxic alkaloids lycorine and galantamine—so they are not exactly unprotected among the witches, wild boars, and mad princes of their native range.  I can hardly wait for the crucial juncture when actual spring snowflakes are replaced by the botanical variety!  I hope you will join me in keeping your eyes on the ground as the winter slowly loosens its grip.

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