Two early flowering plants in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) opens its flowers just a few weeks earlier than the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum). Both carry white, bell-shaped flower heads, sporting a green or a yellow spot on each sepal. Both do also contain poisonous alkaloids, that are a natural self-defense against pests and animals. The same alkaloids are also found in plants of the Narcissus genus.
The flowers of the spring snowflake typically appear after the snow melts, usually in late February and beginning of March. They are shaped like a cup, which gave them the name Märzenbecher in German, literally meaning “March goblets”. The Latin name Leucojum consists of the Greek word leucos for “white” (a bright, shiny white) and ion for “violet”. The flowers emit a sweet fragrance. The epithet vernum comes from the Latin word for “spring”. Other names are snowbell, dewdrop and St. Agnes flower.
The flowers of the snowdrop open in early February, often as early as Candlemass. They are more tender and when still closed, resemble a tear drop or look like a popular type of earring, called Schneetropfen in German. The English flower name snowdrop is thought to be a direct translation. The name Galanthus derives from the Greek words gala for “milk” and anthos for “flower”, whereas the Latin epithet nivalis means “of the snow” or “snow-covered”.
For some reason the snowdrop features more prominently in folklore and is now the flower associated with February, Candlemas cleansing rituals and the virgin Mary. I have blogged about this earlier. Interestingly, it seems to be missing in medieval scripture and early Christian paintings. Therefore, the snowflake is to be found on a painting of the Paradise Garden from the early 15th century. Here it is placed next to the infant Jesus and below the hem of Mary’s blue dress:
I found this painting thanks to the Met Museum’s garden blog and include it here, as it features many interesting flowers… Another fragrant, white flowering plant portrayed there is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). It is a distant relative of the former and flowers much later, in May. Though named after the biblical “lily of the valleys”, it is uncertain which plant is originally referred to in the Song of Songs.
The spring snowflake is found spreading across river valleys and forest glades, taking advantage of the early spring sun and blooming when the trees are still leafless. I remember the sight of snowflake-covered meadows in the Polenztal, Saxon Switzerland: shiny white flower-cups and droplets from melting snow, reflecting the light of the spring sun; in the distance the sound of the bickering brook…
It is not surprising, the white flowers of early flowering plants would become symbols of purity and holiness. But there are also darker aspects connected to each of them, some of which I’m currently researching in context with a new incense formula. More about this later…
As a reminder, I gave the following hints:
This time the herb I’m looking for is not a poisonous one – quite the contrary! It is a classic healing herb, which belongs in any herbal apothecary. A giant in the garden, its name relative is associated with an adversarial hero, who helped man and offended the gods…
The riddle included an illustration, which was to aid in finding the answer. Here is the drawing again:
The illustration hinted at the legend of Prometheus, who stole the fire from the olymp in the shaft of a Giant Fennel (Ferula communis). The drawing also shows the planetary ruler (Mercury) and associated element (Fire), which apply to both herbs. Hence the relative I was looking for, was the Common Fennel (Feoniculum vulgare). I admit this time the riddle was a little more tricky.
Thanks to everyone, who commented and shared their ideas! It was great fun reading your remarks and seeing the chain of thoughts that lead most of you to the right answer. 🙂 Other suggestions included angelica, dill, chamomile and yarrow. Since Angelica had been mentioned often, I’m sharing here for comparison my sigillum for it:
Some of you recognized, the difference in foliage and some other elements. I feel inspired though to give this image, which is already a bit older, a make-over and add planetary as well as some more hints at its folkloristic and magical attributions…
Wuth only few days left until the Winter Solstice, I am excited to share my next plant riddle with you! This time the herb I’m looking for is not a poisonous one. It is a classic healing plant, which belongs in any herbal apothecary. A giant in the garden, its name relative is associated with an adversarial hero, who helped man and offended the gods.
The riddle is again accompanied by a new illustration I did earlier in autumn and which may help or confuse…
Which is the plant in question?
Tonight I share this new artwork with you, which is again a riddle. The game is as usual: guess the plant depicted and leave a comment with your suggestion! If you have been following my recent postings here you will easily find the plant in question. A hint: it has to do with autumn. 😉
The original paintings are done with plant juices and blood. The images are ca. 110 x 150 mm, the paper format is A5. Protected inside simple black carton and envelope. Each print is signed and numbered. Available are 10 copies of each.
Nice price for all three: 13,50 Euro + shipping SOLD
NOTE: I am preparing an offer for mounted and signed prints of the Regina Amandrakina art. The passe-partouts for these measure 400 x 300 mm and the prints themselves will be ca 305 x 230 mm. Estimated pricing: 39 Euro + shipping
More info here: http://teufelskunst.com/catalogue/art/prints/