If you find yourself lucky enough to be strolling through the High Line gardens in late winter, you may notice the white nodding blooms of Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop. While other spring ephemerals and perennials are still slumbering away, this little bulb seems unaffected by freezing temperatures and undeterred by snow. After a long winter, the delicate white, pendulous flowers, often marked with smudges or stripes of green, are a sight for sore eyes and a sign that spring, truly, is coming.
These members of the Amaryllidaceae family were described by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and given the genus name Galanthus, meaning milky-white flower, and specific epithet, nivalis meaning snow. Cultivated in Europe for centuries, Galanthus first became a collectors' item in the 1850s, when soldiers began bringing the bulbs home as souvenirs from the Crimean War. The many species, thrown into proximity for the first time, began to hybridize with abandon, and new and special varieties were traded among gardeners with gusto.
Native to the Carpathian Mountains of central and Eastern Europe, the snowdrop is a popular, cultivated bulbous perennial and is a common plant in many parks and gardens throughout the temperate zone. Snowdrops will naturalize into drifts under dappled shade in well-draining, medium moist soils. These diminutive bulbs are not just another pretty face - they also contain an alkaloid, galantamine, used to treat mild to moderate symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
Here on the High Line we grow the straight species Galanthus nivalis, but there is a plethora of single and double flowered cultivars available in the trade.
Galanthus nivalis is easy to naturalize in woodland and rock gardens. If planted in turf, the foliage should be allowed to dieback naturally before the grass is cut. Take care to make sure the bulbs don't dry out prior to planting in the fall.
WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:
You can find Galanthus nivalis on the High Line, quietly blooming under the Phillip A. and Lisa Maria Falcone Flyover between West 25th Street and West 27th Street.
The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 500 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. Every week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.
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