The occurrence of Galanthus species in Sussex

Source: Harmes, Paul. “The occurrence of Galanthus species in Sussex.” Sussex Botanical Recording Society Newsletter, no. 36 (February 1994).

Picture of Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop), Forest Row, 2009. Photo: Brad Scott

I have always felt there was much more to the Snowdrops which occur in Sussex than just G. nivalis, or its double-flowered form G. nivalis “Flore Pleno”.

Inspection of the record cards held by Mary and myself, and the churchyard records proved that no serious work had so far been undertaken.

My interest began last year whilst helping my friends, Ian and Paul Green with the compilation of records for their forthcoming Atlas Flora of Somrset. They decided to undeertake a similar study of the Snowdrops in their county, and invited me to join them. A visit to the Mendip Council office in Shepton Mallet, revealed the former residence of James Allen, a Victorian who was renowned for his collection of Snowdrops. Although the site had been “raided” many years ago, there was still quite a display to be seen.

I feel that most, if not all, SBRS members enjoy the early season splashes of white found in many churchyards and some shady banks, and I am willing to bet many of you make a special journey to see them each year! However, how many of you look beyond the wonderful sight before your eyes, and search out those that appear different.

To encourage you all to take a closer look in future, I have produced, what I hope is a simple key to the Snowdrops that I think you are most likely to encounter in Sussex.

Having embarked on this particular merry-go-round, I hope a few more people might come along for the ride.

It is fair to say that most Snowdrops, especially in churchyards, have been introduced, although the literature does conflict: CTW states “probably native in damp woods” whereas Stace says “usually if not always introduced”.

Never[the]less, they do become established very quickly, so forming the familiar carpets we are used to seeing.

Undoubtedly Galanthus nivalis is the commonest taxon occurring, but care is needed as there are many different clones of nivalis. Some are small with almost upright narrow leaves, others can be large with broader leaves.

Hybrids are apparently fertile and tend to occur without both parents.

G. nivalis x G. plicatus is available from garden centres and nurseries and is often planted, becoming established relatively quickly. This taxon together with G. elwesii and G. caucasicus seem to appear with about the same regularity, and have much broader leaves than the nivalis group.

If you do start to look and problems arise, do not hesitate to contact me and I will endeavour to help, or go and look myself.

Furthermore, if you know of a site you think should be looked at and are too busy to do yourselves, again let me know.

I would like to establish which Snowdrops are growing in our churchyards first, and then progress to colonies which occur in other locations.

Lastly, don’t forget to look and see if the Crocuses, Scillas or Irises are beginning to spread, a note of these species would also be very helpful.

Key to the Galanthus species recorded in the British Isles

1 Leaves folded around each other (sk. 1) 2
Leaves not folded around each other (sk. 2) 4
2 Leaves bright glossy green (not glaucous) G. ikariae
Leaves glaucous 3
3 Flowers with green marking at apex of inner tepal (sk. 4) G. caucasicus
Flowers with green markings at apex and base of inner tepal (sometimes merging together) (sk. 5 and 6) G. elwesii
4 Leaves not revolute (folded back), flowers single or double G. nivalis
Leaves only slightly revolute G. nivalis x plicatus
Leaves distinctly revolute (sk. 3) 5
5 Inner tepals with green marking at the apex (sk. 4) G. plicatus ssp. plicatus
Inner tepals with green marking at apex and base (sometimes merging together) (sk. 4 and 5) G. plicatus ssp. byzantinus

Diagrams showing features of Galanthus