The first of February is Imbolc – the Gaelic festival marking the end of winter and the start of spring. Much of the vegetation still seems very much set in its midwinter torpor, but snowdrops are in full flower promising more signs of spring will follow in their wake.
Snowdrops are probably not native, but have been naturalised for so long that they have gathered many regional folk names including “February Fair-Maids”, “Eve’s Tear”, “dewdrops” and “Mary’s Tapers”. They are classified as ‘neophytes’ which quite literally means ‘new plant’ from the Greek néos meaning new, and phutón meaning plant. In the UK, neophytes are alien species which escaped into the wild after 1500 AD.
Snowdrops are often planted but will quickly naturalise if left to their own devices – they often grow well under trees and in woodland, but are equally at home in parkland and gardens.
There are several species of snowdrop you might find growing naturalised in the UK but the most common is Galanthus nivalis – shown in the photograph. The genus name ‘Galanthus’ derives from the Greek gála meaning milk and ánthos meaning flower; whilst the species name ‘nivalis’ is from the latin and means snow-like. Other species with bright grass-green leaves, and ornamental varieties such as double-flowers are also found planted, especially in churchyards and cemeteries.
Below are a series of photographs taken in Grantham Cemetery at the beginning of 2019.