Tag Archives: early spring flowers

Gothic Beauty

 

Last onset of winter…

 

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Winter Returned

Today winter returned once more. The temps went below zero again, but this time the cold was accompanied by snowfall, covering the garden in white. A field fare (Turdus pilaris) – first time for me to see this bird – spends the late winter here, thriving on rose hips and left over fruits. Snowdrops are living up to their name and a spiderweb swaying in the wind, portentously catches snowflakes… the time for winter’s magic isn’t over just yet.

Snowdrops and Snowflakes

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snowflakes blooming at the meteorological beginning of spring

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¬†M√§rzenbecher 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”.

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snowdrops found in a sink, at the edge of a small forest

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:

Paradiesgärtlein, ca. 1410-20,  unknown artist, Städel Museum, Frankfurt a. M.

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…

References:

Springs Snowflakes, by ferrebeekeeper + Snowdrop and Snowflake , at metmuseum.org +