This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
It would be both interesting, and surprising, if the Snowdrop occurred in Glacial times in Britain, but we have no record, and it is found to-day in Europe south of Holland, and W. Asia. It has been recorded from as many as sixty-four of the vice-counties of Great Britain, but there is no evidence that it is native except perhaps in Hereford and Denbigh, and elsewhere it is naturalized both in England and Scotland, but not in Ireland. It is said to be native in Edinburgh.
The Snowdrop, so familiar in our gardens and plantations, is found in a semi-natural state in meadows and copses, in many cases, as in the case of Crocus, Tulip, Daffodil, Narcissus, etc, having only migrated from a garden or orchard. The Snowdrop and Crocus have a similar habit. The leaves are smooth, hollowed out above, lanceolate, with the tips curved inwards, nearly as long as the flowering stems. The Snowdrop is a bulbous plant, with the leaves arranged in a rosette, but erect.
The flowers are pure white, hence the first Greek and second Latin and English names. They are usually drooping. The spathe enclosing the flower is membranous. The inner segments are greenish. The sepals are inversely egg-shaped and hollowed out.
This harbinger of spring, as it has been called, is about 6 in. in height. The Snowdrop is in flower between January and March. It is perennial and propagated by offsets.
The flowers are sweet-scented and contain a moderate supply of honey, which is secreted in the green grooves on the inner sides of the flower, and the honey is sheltered from rain by the pendulous position of the latter and the perianth leaves. The flowers are open from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., when they close. There are 6 anthers which mature at the same time as the stigma. They are close to the style and open by 2 terminal slits, pollen falling out when they are touched. The anther processes form a cone and end in rigid points, being touched by a bee and shaken so that pollen drops clown when the insect is seeking honey. The insect touches the stigma with pollen from a previous flower before it touches the anthers, as the stigma is longer than the latter. If the flower is not visited by insects it is self-pollinated. The pistil is white, or only green, at first, above the middle.
Photo. J. Holmes - Snowdrop (galanthus Nivalis, L.)
The honey bee clings to the perianth dusting itself with pollen on the head. It sweeps the pollen with its brushes and fore- and mid-legs into baskets on its hind-legs. It is visited by hive bees. When insects are absent the anther-stalks become loose, the anthers diverge, and pollen falls on the stigma.
The capsule contains few seeds, which fall when ripe around the parent plant, but it also multiplies largely by bulbs.
The Snowdrop is a sand-loving or clay-loving plant growing in sand or clay with some little humus.
The Snowdrop mildew (Sclerotinia galanthina) attacks it.
Galanthus, Linnaeus, is from Greek gala, milk, anthos, flower, from the milk-white flower, and the second Latin name (from nivis, snow) refers to the period of flowering, in winter, when snow is on the ground.
This plant is called Candlemas Bells, Fair Maids, Fair Maids of February, French Snowdrop, Purification Flower, Snowdrop, Snow-flower, White Ladies. Ouida calls it White Ladies in Strathmore. The Snowdrop is called Fair Maids of February on account of its flowering in February.
Legend has accumulated around so familiar a flower. Formerly young women dressed in white and walked in procession on the Feast of Purification, saying:
" The snowdrop in purest white array, First rears her head on Candlemas Day ".
It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary - the monks thought it bloomed at this period in memory of the Virgin when she took the child Jesus to the Temple and presented her offering, and because her image was removed from the altar on the Feast of Purification and snowdrops were strewed in its place. It is considered unlucky to bring the first snowdrop of the year into a house, for " it looks for all the world like a corpse in its shroud ".
There is a beautiful legend that " An angel was sent to console Eve mourning over the barren earth. No flower grew in Eden, and driving snow kept falling and making a pall for Earth's funeral after the fall. As the angel spoke, he caught a flake of falling snow, breathed on it, and bade it take a form, and bud and blow. Ere it reached the ground it had turned into a beautiful flower which Eve prized more than all the other fair plants of Paradise. The angel said:
' This is an earnest, Eve, to thee, That Sun and Summer soon shall be'.
The angel departed, and a ring of snowdrops formed a lovely posy where he stood."
Essential Specific Characters: 298. Galanthus nivalis, L. - Leaves linear, keeled, flowers white, single, drooping, inner segments green, sepals exceeding the petals.
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis, L.)
Confined to woods more or less, Lily-of-the-Valley is found in the N. Temperate Zone in Europe, but not in Greece and Northern Asia. In Great Britain it grows in the Peninsula province only in Somerset; in the Channel province, not in the Isle of Wight or N. Hants; in the Channel, Thames, and Anglia provinces, not in E. Suffolk or Hunts; in the Severn province, not in W. Gloucs; in S. Wales in Brecon, in N. Wales in Carnarvon, Denbigh, Flint; in the Trent province, not in S. Lincs; in the Mersey province, only in Chester; in the Humber and Tyne provinces, except in Cheviotland; in the Lakes province, except in the Isle of Man; in Scotland in W. Mid and E. Perth, Forfar, Easterness. From Caithness it ranges elsewhere to Kent and Devon, but is not common. In Cumberland it is found up to 1000 ft. It is naturalized in Scotland and Ireland.
The Lily-of-the-Valley is familiar enough in the gardens, where it luxuriates in the shady corners, but few know it in its natural habitat, which is entirely woodland. It grows in the dark parts of woods and copses, under trees covering quite a large area and forming extensive beds.
The leaves are all radical leaves and the aerial stem merely a flowering stem. The leaves are egg-shaped in pairs, stalked, erect, smooth, lance-shaped, veined, one of them exceeding the other, bright green. The leaf-stalks are round, long, the outer one dotted with red, tubular, drooping, enclosing the inner solid one.
Photo. H. Irving - Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis, L.)
The scape or flowering stem is lateral, as long as the leaves, naked, smooth, erect, semi-cylindrical. The bracts or leaflike organs are membranous below each flower. The flowers are in drooping racemes, white, bell-shaped. The segments of the corolla are turned back. The fruit is a red berry.
This plant is 6 in. in height. It flowers in May and June. Lily-of-the-Valley is perennial and propagated by the underground stems.
The flowers are honeyless, but contain much pollen and the tissue a sweet sap. The flowers are visited by numerous insects. The flowers are homogamous, anthers and stigma being ripe together, or the anthers first, and in the absence of insects self-pollination occurs.
When the flower expands, the stigma, longer than the anthers, is already covered with long papillae or wart-like knobs before the anthers are mature; but if the anthers are ripe and rubbed over it, little pollen adheres. When they have opened the stigma is sticky and pollen adheres to it. The flowers are pendulous, and bees cling on, and thrust the head and fore leg into the bell, touching the stigma first with pollen from another flower. It sweeps the pollen with the brushes of its fore legs into its baskets, and dusts its head with pollen, which is carried to the next flower. The stigma is 3-lobed, and the anthers stand close to it.
The fruit is a rounded berry, which is red when ripe and falls to the ground, but may rarely be dispersed by birds. The plant generally grows in wide patches, indicating that it is mainly dispersed by its own agency.
A beetle, Crioceris lilii, and a fly, Parallelomma albipes, are found on the Lily-of-the-Valley.
Convallaria, Linnaeus, is from convallis, a valley, its usual habitat, and majalis indicates the flowering period, May.
This pretty flower is called Conval-Lily, Great Park, May and Wood Lily, Lily-among-thorns, Lily-conval, Lily-of-the-Valley, Liri-con fancy, May Blossoms, May Lily, Mugwet, Valleys.
They say at St. Leonards it sprang from the blood of St. Leonard, who, encountering a mighty worm or " fire-drake " in the forest, fought it three days, and was at last the victor, but was badly wounded, and wherever his blood flowed lilies of the valley sprang up. It was regarded as symbolic of the return of happiness, and as to its perfume of sweetness Keats says:
" No flower amid the garden fairer grows Than the sweet lily of the lowly vale, The Queen of flowers ".
Its snow-white beauty symbolizes purity. It is gathered by all on Whit Monday in Hanover, where it is called May Bloom. A person who plants a bed of lilies will die during the next twelve months, so it is considered unlucky.
The flowers are fragrant when fresh, but when dry are narcotic. Powdered, the plant induces sneezing. It is purgative, and bitter as aloes when an extract from the roots is prepared.
Lime is used to prepare a green colour from the leaves.
Essential Specific Characters: 300. Convallaria majalis, L. - Scape semi-cylindrical, radical leaves paired, lanceolate, ovate, flowers white, campanulate, in a raceme, 6-12, berry red.