If you are a New Yorker you know how much snow we have contended with these last months and it's reluctance to dissipate, especially in the shadier parts of the garden. Mid-week the temperatures reached the 60's and finally we began to see some ground for the first time since December. People began to come out of their offices and classrooms excited to shed the extra layers and eat their lunches basking in the sun and the premature warm spell. Coworkers and fellow horticultural minds spoke of their first floral sightings for the new year. I had yet to see the first signs myself, and then I spotted this white speck at the base of a fabulous old Cornus mas while excavating another buried staircase. Upon closer inspection I realized I had finally had my first sighting for 2011, in the form of a perfect solitary little Galanthus.
Galanthus are commonly called snowdrops. As I have mentioned before, there are basically two kinds of snowdrops that we see in the northeast landscape this time of year. Both Eurasian species in the Amaryllidaceae family the quick ID characteristic are the green spots on the inner petals of the tiny, pendulous white flowers. This guy having two green markings means he is likely Galanthus elwesii and not his close relative, the one-spotted Galanthus nivalis. Galanthus elwesii is also known for it's more glaucous leaves, meaning they have more of a waxy coating to them. Lastly as you can see in these closer shots the opposite leaves are folded inside the other which can be another ID characteristic as you begin to train your botanical eye. Galathus nivalis is quite similar looking but upon closer inspection you will see those leaves are still slightly glaucous but flatter in nature, without the overlap you see among G. elwesii. So there you go, your horticultural factoid of the day.
Thanks to my dear friend Sarah Carter Roberts as well as the great reference book Bulbs by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, copyright Random House, 1989)