1. Family: Amaryllidaceae J.St.-Hil.
    1. Genus: Leucojum L.
      1. Leucojum vernum L.

        The spring snowflake was described as Leucojum vernum by the renowned Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The scientific name means ‘spring white violet’ (Leucojum means ‘white violet’ and vernum means ‘spring’). L. vernum is a widely cultivated, hardy, frost-tolerant plant, notable as a good early nectar and pollen source for bees.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    The spring snowflake is a popularly cultivated bulbous plant with delicate white flowers, and belongs to the same family as the snowdrops.

    The spring snowflake was described as Leucojum vernum by the renowned Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The scientific name means ‘spring white violet’ (Leucojum means ‘white violet’ and vernum means ‘spring’). L. vernum is a widely cultivated, hardy, frost-tolerant plant, notable as a good early nectar and pollen source for bees.

    Although both snowflakes ( Leucojum species) and snowdrops ( Galanthus species) belong to the family Amaryllidaceae, they have clear differentiating characters. While snowflakes have six equal tepals (petals and sepals that are similar to each other), in snowdrops the three inner tepals are shorter and broader than the three outer tepals.

    Species Profile

    Geography and distribution

    The spring snowflake is native to Central Europe (extending to Belgium, the Pyrenees, northern Italy, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and has become naturalised in other regions, such as the British Isles and North America.

    Description

    Overview:The spring snowflake has small, underground bulbs up to 3 cm in diameter.

    Leaves: The leaves measure 10-25 x 5-25 mm, have ligules (leaf sheath projections) and appear during the flowering period.

    Flowers: The scape (flower-stalk) is 12-35 cm long, usually exceeding the leaves in length, with a central cavity and two narrow wings. The flowers are generally solitary, rarely in pairs. The spathe (sheathing bract) measures 2.5-4 cm in length and has one valve. The perianth segments (petals and sepals) are 1.5-2.5 cm long and are white with a green or yellow spot just below the thickened apex. The stigma (female part) is club-shaped and slightly longer than the stamens (male parts).

    Seeds: The whitish seeds measure around 7 mm and have a strophiole (outgrowth associated with animal dispersal) that is attractive to ants, which are allegedly the dispersal agents.

    Leucojum vernum flowers from February to April, and the seeds ripen in July. The flowers are hermaphrodite (having both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees.

    The two recognised varieties are readily distinguished: L. vernumvar. vernum has green spots on its tepals and is widely distributed, while L. vernumvar. carpathicum has yellowish spots on its tepals and is restricted to the Carpathian Mountains. 

    Kew research leads to reclassification

    Recent research at Kew has suggested that eight species previously included in the genus Leucojumshould be moved to the genus Acis.

    Two species, L. vernum and L. aestivum (summer snowflake), remain in the genus Leucojum; they are characterised by wide leaves, flowers with markings, hollow scapes and a widespread distribution across Europe and the northern Mediterranean.

    In contrast, Acisspecies have narrow leaves, flowers without markings, solid scapes, a west Mediterranean and North African distribution and most species are narrow endemics (restricted to a very small area).

    Herbarium specimen of Leucojum vernum

    Uses

    Like Leucojum aestivum (summer snowflake), Leucojum vernum is an attractive ornamental and grows well in damp grassland or woodland situations, where it can become naturalised. Both species tolerate waterlogged soils, and can be planted to good effect on the margins of ponds or alongside streams in the wilder parts of a garden.

    Numerous species in the family Amaryllidaceae contain antiviral alkaloids that can be used for medicinal purposes. Some studies have suggested that the bulbs of L. vernumcontain alkaloids with high anti-retroviral properties against the HIV-1 virus.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Description of seeds:Average 1,000 seed weight = 12.04 g

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

    Spring snowflake at Kew

    Spring snowflakes can be seen growing in the Woodland Garden (situated around the Temple of Aeolus) at Kew from February to April.

    Dried and spirit-preserved specimens of Leucojum vernum are held in the Herbarium, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew. The details of some of these specimens, including an image, can be seen in the online Herbarium Catalogue.

    View details and images of specimens

    Ecology
    Damp woods, thickets, hedge banks and meadows; usually in hilly areas and on calcareous soils.
    Conservation
    Not yet assessed according to IUCN criteria.
    Hazards

    All parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the bulbs.

    [KSP]
    Use
    Ornamental, medicinal.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine, Yugoslavia

    Introduced Into:

    Denmark, Finland, Florida, Georgia, Great Britain, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden

    Common Names

    English
    Spring snowflake

    Leucojum vernum L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    23559.000
    K000400610
    RBGKewTissueBank [70576], United Kingdom K000696795

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 289 (1753)

    Accepted in:

    • [10] Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1980) Flora Europaea 5: 1-452. Cambridge University Press.

    Literature

    • [1] Plants for a Future (2010). Leucojum vernum. Accessed on 6 December 2010.
    • [2] World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). Leucojum vernum. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [3] Mabberley, D.J. (2006). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses, 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [4] Aeschimann, D. & Heitz, C. (2005). Index synonymique de la Flore de Suisse et territoires limitrophes (ISFS). Doc. Flor. Helv. 2: 1-323.
    • [5] Lledó, M.D., Davis, A.P., Crespo, M.B., Chase, M.W. & Fay, M.F. (2004). Phylogenetic analysis of Leucojum and Galanthus (Amaryllidaceae) based on plastid matK and nuclear ribosomal spacer (ITS) DNA sequences and morphology. Plant Systematics and Evolution 246: 223-243.
    • [6] Szlávik, L., Gyuris, Á., Minárovits, J., Forgo, P., Molnár, J. & Hohmann, J. (2004). Alkaloids from Leucojum vernum and antiretroviral activity of Amaryllidaceae alkaloids. Planta Medica. 70: 871-873.
    • [7] Harris, J. G. & Woolf Harris, M. (2001). Plant Identification Terminology. Spring Lake Publishing, Spring Lake, Utah.
    • [8] Meerow, A.W. & Snijman, D.A. (1998). Amaryllidaceae. In: The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants, ed. K. Kubitzki, pp. 83-110. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg.
    • [9] Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1992). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. Vol. 3 (L to Q): 57-58. Macmillan Press, London.
    • [11] Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1980) Flora Europaea 5: 1-452. Cambridge University Press.
    • [12] Webb, D. A. (1980). Leucojum. In: Flora Europaea Volume 5, ed. T.G. Tutin, V.H. Heywood, N.A. Burges, D.M. Moore, D.H. Valentine, S.M. Walters & D.A. Webb, pp. 76-77. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [13] Dunn, S. T. (1905). Alien Flora of Britain. West, Newman & Co., London.
    • [14] Sims, M. D. (1818). Leucojum vernum var. carpathicum. Curtis's Bot. Mag. 45: t. 1993.

    Sources

    International Plant Names Index
    The International Plant Names Index (2016). Published on the Internet http://www.ipni.org
    [A] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    [B] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [C]

    World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
    World Checklist of Selected Plant Families(2016). Published on the Internet http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    [D] See http://kew.org/about-kew/website-information/legal-notices/index.htm You may use data on these Terms and Conditions and on further condition that: The data is not used for commercial purposes; You may copy and retain data solely for scholarly, educational or research purposes; You may not publish our data, except for small extracts provided for illustrative purposes and duly acknowledged; You acknowledge the source of the data by the words "With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" in a position which is reasonably prominent in view of your use of the data; Any other use of data or any other content from this website may only be made with our prior written agreement. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [E] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index and World Checkist of Selected Plant Families. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0