Text by Tovah Martin / Photography by Kindra Clineff
There’s a tease that pops up in late winter—and it’s called snowdrops.
Snowdrops may be nature’s most impatient creation. Winter is still very much present when they puncture the thin crust of snow in a thaw and come up shivering when winter is by no means vanquished and temperatures might still plummet.
In Britain, Galanthus spp. (as they’re designated botanically) have been called February fair maids and dingle-dangles. In France, they’re known as perce-neige (or snow piercers), which gives you some idea of their lack of prudent timing. Native to Europe and western Asia, these intrepid white bloomers that we know as snowdrops are the first subtle hint that winter’s fury is fracturing. Huddling close to the earth, snowdrops have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to battle brutal weather. The fact that they face downward protects the blossoms from filling with ice or snow. And these cunning little weather warriors only swell open when temperatures are well above freezing, closing shop when it’s particularly inclement. If temperatures fall into the single digits, the plant collapses entirely, but they rally to soldier onward as soon as the mercury rises. Not to be deterred by prolonged relapses of cold weather, the flowers can linger a month or more—far longer than most bulbs.
Unless you venture out when the ground is just barely thawed, you might never know the glories of snowdrops because their marvels are hidden from easy view. The best way to check them out is with a heavy coat, kneeling pad, and a mirror to look underneath and inside the blooms. Only then can you see the individual markings that define one snowdrop from the next in this incredibly diverse group of bulbs. Gather your gumption and take a look because you might discover a rare double snowdrop—like a miniature cabbage. For those who dare make only one foray outside when it’s still frigid, dig up a batch of snowdrops and bring them inside to enjoy more intimately. The blossoms last long indoors to later be divided up and planted outside. Snowdrops are one of the few bulbs that can be transplanted successfully while still green. Start new colonies to champion the crusade despite fickle weather. A little hope of spring means everything in winter.