Genus:
Galanthus L.

Galanthus nivalis L.

Galanthus nivalis was described by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum in 1753, and given the specific epithet nivalis, meaning snowy (Galanthus means with milk-white flowers). This narrow-leaved snowdrop, with its delicate white hanging flowers, has become very popular in cultivation and is commonly planted in gardens and parks. It is now a familiar sight even in the British Isles and northern France where it is not native.

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description
Common snowdrop is one of the most popular of all cultivated bulbous plants, and its flowering is traditionally seen to herald the end of winter.

Galanthus nivalis was described by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum in 1753, and given the specific epithet nivalis, meaning snowy (Galanthus means with milk-white flowers). This narrow-leaved snowdrop, with its delicate white hanging flowers, has become very popular in cultivation and is commonly planted in gardens and parks. It is now a familiar sight even in the British Isles and northern France where it is not native.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Common snowdrop occurs throughout Europe, from the Pyrenees eastward to the Ukraine, and from Germany and Poland southwards to southern Italy, Albania and northern Greece. It is found at 100-1,400 m above sea level (although it most commonly occurs at 300-600 m). 

It is considered to be introduced and naturalised in northern Europe, including the British Isles.

Description

Overview: The bulb is more or less spherical to ovoid, 2-2.2 cm x 1.1-1.5 cm. The green scape (the leafless, flower-bearing stalk) is 7-15 cm long and bears a single erect flower bud, which later becomes pendent (hangs down).

Leaves: The leaves are applanate in vernation (are held flat against each other in bud), more or less linear and 5-15 x 0.4-0.8 cm at flowering. The leaves are smooth and semi-glaucous (dull greyish green). 

Flowers:The flowers are composed of six white perianth segments (petals and sepals which are similar in appearance), the inner three of which are smaller and have a notch in the tip, above which is a green inverted V- to inverted U-shaped mark.

Fruits and seeds: The fruit is a more or less spherical capsule, 1-1.2 cm in diameter. The pale brown seeds are about 0.4 cm long.

Threats and conservation

All snowdrops ( Galanthus spp.) are included in CITES Appendix II, which lists plants that are not currently under threat of extinction, but which should have their trade monitored and regulated to ensure wild populations are not endangered.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) is an international agreement between governments across the world that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Under this convention, export quotas are set to limit the numbers of plants and bulbs leaving a country and help prevent over-harvesting. As a result of heavy restrictions, reported trade in wild specimens of G. nivalis virtually ceased in 1995, with the reported end of exports from Hungary. Most nurseries now avoid the use of bulbs collected from the wild by selling stock raised from artificial propagation of bulb offsets, scale cuttings or seeds.

Despite the restrictions on the snowdrop trade, populations in some areas remain under threat. For example, G. nivalis was once widely distributed in the East Carpathians (a mountain range arching across Central and Eastern Europe), but during the last decade its distribution has been considerably reduced. The main cause is the destruction of its primary habitat, particularly the lowland-foothill zone, due to increasing residential and recreational land-use. Galanthus nivalis is included in the List of Rare and Disappearing Species of the Ukranian Flora , listed as a species in decline in the Red Data Book of the Ukraine (1996) , and is considered to be under threat of extinction in some areas.

Conservation assessments carried out at Kew

Galanthus nivalis is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants project ,  which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world's plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.

Find out more about this project

Uses Ornamental

Galanthus nivalis is admired for its delicate beauty; millions of plants are sold each year by the horticultural trade. It is one of the most popular of all cultivated bulbous plants and is widely enjoyed as an outdoor, early spring flower.

Snowdrop bulbs are collected on a small scale from privately-owned estates in the UK for sale to wholesalers for the horticultural market. Lifting the bulbs on a four- to five-year rotation helps ensure sustainable production.

Insecticidal

Snowdrop lectin is an effective insecticide, and can be used against pests in the orders Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and Hemiptera (true bugs including aphids and leafhoppers). Research has suggested that snowdrop lectin could be a candidate for introduction into genetically-engineered crops, such as tobacco and tomatoes, to increase their resistance to insect pests.

Medicinal

Common snowdrop contains an alkaloid, galanthamine, which has been approved for use in the management of Alzheimer's disease in a number of countries. Galanthamine is also used in the treatment of traumatic injuries to the nervous system.  Galanthus nivalis  is also an emmenagogue, and as such it stimulates or increases menstrual flow and so can induce an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.

Snowdrop lectin (GNA;  Galanthus nivalis  agglutinin) is being studied with regard to its potential activity against HIV (human immunodeficiency 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.

Collections of  Galanthus nivalis  seeds are held in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

See Kew's Seed Information Database for further information on Galanthus nivalis seeds

Cultivation

Galanthus nivalis is popular with gardeners because it is easy to grow and because a large number of cultivars and clones are available. Once planted they increase freely, producing new bulbs as offsets, and large and impressive drifts can be easily obtained after some years. Snowdrops should be planted in dappled shade, in soil that is well-drained but not completely dry in summer. If planted in grass they should be left to die back before the grass is cut.

Snowdrops can be seen growing in the Rock Garden, Conservation Area and around the Temple of Aeolus at Kew during January and February.

At Kew's sister garden, Wakehurst, there is a beautiful mass planting of Galanthus nivalis near the visitor centre.

Dried and spirit-preserved specimens of G. nivalis are held in the Herbarium, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew. 

Phenology research at Kew

The plants at Kew Gardens and Wakehurst provide valuable information about our climate and so provide an early warning of the effects of climate change. For example, staff at Kew study the changes in plant life-cycles over time (called phenology). Each year, scientists monitor and record the flowering dates of a hundred native and exotic plants at Kew Gardens.

Recent signs of change include a shift in the average flowering date of the common snowdrop ( Galanthus nivalis ). In the 1950s the flowers commonly opened around the end of February, but over the decades flowers have gradually appeared earlier, such that since the 1990s the flowers have opened in January.

Ecology
Mostly deciduous woodland, but occasionally coniferous woodland. Also in meadows, pasture, amongst scrub, near rivers and on stony slopes, particularly on calcareous soils.
Conservation
Near Threatened (NT) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Hazards

Snowdrops and their bulbs are poisonous to humans and can cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting if eaten in large quantities.

[KSP]
Use
Ornamental, medicinal, insecticide

Native to:

Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Sicilia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey-in-Europe, Ukraine, Yugoslavia

Introduced into:

Belgium, Great Britain, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Netherlands, New Brunswick, New Jersey, New York, Newfoundland, North Carolina, Norway, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Sweden, Utah, Virginia, Washington

English
Common snowdrop, Snowdrop

Galanthus nivalis L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status Has image?
Aug 1, 2008 Huet, A. [1854], France K000464069 Yes
Mar 1, 1882 Grecescu, D. [s.n.], Romania K000457107 No
Mar 1, 1882 Grecescu, D. [s.n.], Romania K000457108 No
Mar 1, 1882 Grecescu, D. [s.n.], Romania K000457106 No
Jun 2, 1851 Coqueray, J. [s.n.], France K000457118 No
Jun 2, 1851 Coqueray, J. [s.n.], France K000457121 No
Davis, A. 70348.000 No
64350.000 No
70434.000 No
Marr, A.J. [136], Italy 73718.000 No
73303.000 No
Zinger, N. [s.n.], Ukraine K000457092 No
Favrat, L. [s.n.], Switzerland K000457097 No
Unverricht, C. [s.n.], Poland K000457110 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Austria K000457114 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Italy K000457115 No
s.coll. [s.n.], France K000457120 No
Durand-Duquesney [s.n.], France K000457134 No
Daville [s.n.], France K000457135 No
Hill, A.W. [2526], Greece K000457148 No
Hill, A.W. [2526], Greece K000457149 No
Pichler [s.n.], Italy K000457154 No
Maly [s.n.], Bosnia & Herzegovina K000457161 No
Margittai, A. [s.n.], Ukraine K000457103 No
Otruba, J. [s.n.], Czech Republic K000457102 No
Bornet [s.n.], France K000457119 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Austria K000457125 No
Martindale, G.E. [7], Croatia K000457157 No
s.coll. [s.n.], France K000457137 No
Thomas [s.n.], Switzerland K000457098 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Italy K000457116 No
Martindale, G.E. [7], Croatia K000457156 No
Cope, T.A. [RBG 23], United Kingdom K000914590 Yes
Gerard, C. [s.n.], France K000457129 No
Joad, G.C. [s.n.], Italy K000457277 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Bosnia & Herzegovina K000457162 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Belgium K000457111 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Bulgaria K000457163 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Austria K000457124 No
Pichler [s.n.], Italy K000457152 No
Jarris, P. [s.n.], France K000457131 No
Whitehead, M.J. [15], Italy K000457167 No
Billiet, P. [s.n.], France K000457126 No
Tommasini, M. [s.n.], Italy K000457153 No
Porta [s.n.], Italy K000457151 No
Meline, C. [s.n.], France K000457138 No
Mathew, B. [7529], Montenegro K000457155 No
Pennington, R.V. [3], Albania K000457164 No
Savostjaniv, A. [33], Ukraine K000457091 No
Mathew, B. [4032], Serbia K000457159 No
Vollmann [1433], Germany K000457095 No
Bouvet, G. [s.n.], France K000457139 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Italy K000457145 No
Nowak, J. [s.n.], Poland K000457166 No
Maillard, A. [s.n.], France K000457136 No
Buysson Du [s.n.], France K000457130 No
Billiet, P. [s.n.], France K000457127 No
Fiori, A. [s.n.], Italy K000457144 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Ukraine K000457090 No
Pop, I. [s.n.], Romania K000457105 No
Fiori, A. [s.n.], Italy K000457143 No
Ball, J. [s.n.], United Kingdom K000457506 No
s.coll. [99911], Austria K000457101 No
s.coll. [s.n.], France K000457123 No
s.coll. [564], Poland K000457094 No
Maly [s.n.], Bosnia & Herzegovina K000457160 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Switzerland K000457113 No
Meline, C. [s.n.], France K000457142 No
Dostal, J. [s.n.], Czech Republic K000457146 No
Feuz [17], Austria K000457099 No
s.coll. [s.n.], United Kingdom K000457507 No
Joad, G.C. [564], Poland K000457093 No
s.coll. [s.n.], France K000457133 No
Gilliat-Smith, B. [409], Bulgaria K000457165 No
Reverchon, E. [s.n.], France K000457128 No
Hepp, E. [1433], Germany K000457096 No
Vayreda [s.n.], Spain K000457117 No
Gerard, C. [s.n.], France K000457140 No
Marr, A.J. [75], Montenegro K000457158 No
s.coll. [s.n.], Austria K000457100 No
Jarris, P. [s.n.], France K000457141 No
Horton, S.V. [853], Greece K000457147 No
Blonski, F. [s.n.], Poland K000457109 No
Huet, A. [s.n.], France K000457132 No
Goulimy, C.N. [10], Greece K000457150 No
Picquet, C. [s.n.], Belgium K000457112 No
Volak, J. [s.n.], Czech Republic K000457104 No
s.coll. [s.n.], France K000457122 No

First published in Sp. Pl.: 288 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Diev, M.M. (2014). Galyantusy: 1-167. K.M.K., Moskva.
  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2002). Flora of North America North of Mexico 26: 1-723. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.
  • Govaerts, R. (2003). World Checklist of Seed Plants Database in ACCESS G: 1-40325.
  • Rico, E. & al. (eds.) in Castroviejo, S. & al. (eds.) (2013). Flora Iberica 20: 1-651. Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid.
  • Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1980). Flora Europaea 5: 1-452. Cambridge University Press.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

  • Sampled Red List Index Conservation Assessment for Galanthus nivalis. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  • Bishop, M., Davis, A. P. & Grimshaw, J. (2006). Snowdrops: A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus. Griffin Press, Cheltenham.
  • Davis, A. P. (1999). The Genus Galanthus. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in association with Timber Press, Oregon.
  • Heinrich, M. & Teoh, H. L. (2004). Galanthamine from snowdrop – the development of a modern drug against Alzheimer’s disease from local Caucasian knowledge. J. Ethnopharmacol. 92: 147-162.
  • Sanderson, H. & Prendergast, H. D. V. (2002). Commercial uses of wild and traditionally managed plants in England and Scotland. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2002). Flora of North America North of Mexico 26: 1-723. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.

  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

  • Kew Living Collection Database

    Common Names from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Living Collection https://www.kew.org/

  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

  • Kew Science Photographs

    Copyright applied to individual images

  • Kew Species Profiles

    Kew Species Profiles
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0