The Sochi Snowdrop

Nursery News: The 2017 Snowdrop Catalogue, featuring snowdrops and other winter interest plants like cyclamen and hellebores, is posted here, and we are taking orders now for mail order and pick up at the nursery in late February or early March.

Galanthus woronowii Cresson GardenGalanthus woronowii

The over 1,000 types of cultivated snowdrops all originated from just 20 snowdrop species found in the wild and making up the genus Galanthus. This post is the second in a series of posts profiling the important  snowdrop species, which are all great garden plants in their own right. 

In the first post I discussed the common snowdrop, G. nivalis, and you can read that post by clicking here.  I have written a lot of other articles about snowdrops, covering among other topics their ornamental characteristics, fascinating history, the importance of provenance, and profiling many cultivars.  For links to all my previous snowdrop posts, click here.  In this post, I will discuss G. woronowii.

Much of the information in this post comes from Snowdrops: A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus by Matt Bishop et al. (Griffin Press 2006) which is absolutely indispensable if you are researching or collecting snowdrops.  I have also used documents produced by Kew Gardens and the Tbilisi Botanical Garden in the Country of Georgia.

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Galanthus woronowii Cresson GardenGalanthus woronowii

Although a few sources have randomly assigned the common names green snowdrop, Russian snowdrop, and Woronow’s snowdrop to G. woronowii, it really has no regularly used common name.  So why am I calling it the Sochi snowdrop?  Because in the early 20th century, Russian botanist A.S. Losina-Losinskaya collected a new species of snowdrop in southern Russia around Sochi on the eastern shore of the Black Sea.  In 1935, he named these snowdrops Galanthus woronowii in honor of Georg Jurii Nikolaewitch Woronow (1874-1931).  Several sources confirm that G. woronowii is still abundant in the mountains and forests above Sochi, the resort town on the Black Sea where Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics beginning February 7.

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G. woronowii CressonG. woronwii‘s glossy, bright green leaves sparkle in the rain.

G. woronowii is found in northeastern Turkey, Georgia, and southern Russia mainly around the eastern part of the Black Sea.  For a map of its range, click here for a report by Georgia’s Tbilisi Botanical Garden.  It grows in an extraordinary variety of habitats from deciduous and even evergreen woods to rocky slopes, cliff ledges, and river banks.  It thrives in both shallow rocky soil and deep organic loam in areas with cold winters and abundant precipitation.  According to Kew Gardens, Georgia harvests 15 million G. woronowii bulbs every year for export to the western European horticultural trade.  Kew along with Tbilisi and the CITES* authorities have been monitoring this harvest from wild populations and cultivated sites, click here.

*Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which covers snowdrops.

.Galanthus woronowiiG. woronowii flower showing the small mark on the inner segment

G. woronowii is grown for its beautiful, glossy green leaves and lovely white flowers.  It is the only commonly available snowdrop to have bright green leaves as opposed to the blue-gray leaves of the other common species.  The leaves persist longer than other snowdrop foliage and form a lovely but temporary, thick and attractive groundcover.  The flowers, which have a small green mark covering one third or less of the inner segments, are the last snowdrops to bloom in my garden in late March and early April.  I really appreciate the way they extend the end of the snowdrop season. 

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Galanthus woronowiiThe fold in the center of the leaf is clearly visible in this photo.

The identification of G. woronowii is confused in the horticultural trade where it is often called G. ikariae, a much less common snowdrop from the Aegean Islands of Greece.  However, while G. woronowii has light, glossy green leaves folded in the center and a small green mark on the flower, G. ikariae has dark, matt green leaves and a mark covering more than half the inner segment.  I have been told that all the G. ikariae sold in the U.S. is actually G. woronowii.

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Galanthus woronowiiClose up of G. woronowii flower.  I always recognize G. woronowii by the pollen glowing through the top half of the translucent white inner segments, although I don’t know if this is unique.

Unlike the other three more common snowdrop species, G. nivalis, G. elwesii, and G. plicatus, not many cultivated plants have been selected from G. woronowii, possibly because it only became available in large numbers in the 1990s.  Snowdrops lists only ‘Green Flash’ selected for its green marks on its outer as well as its inner segments.  Other sources add ‘Cider with Rosie’, ‘Green Woodpecker’, and ‘Boschhoeve’, all with green marks on their outers. 

Nevertheless, a cultivar of G. woronowii has caused more excitement than any other snowdrop when, on February 16, 2012, one bulb sold for 725 pounds ($1,185) on eBay, surpassing the previous record of around 360 pounds ($508).  G. woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ appeared as a seedling in a Scottish garden and is named after the owner.  It is considered so special because instead of the usual green ovary (the “cap” to which the petals are attached) and segment marks, ‘Elizabeth Harrison’s’ are an intense yellow, looking beautiful with the bright green leaves.  For the U.K. Telegraph story on ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ and a photo, click here; for today’s story in the Telegraph about another snowdrop, ‘Humpty Dumpty’, reaching 195 pounds, click here

I won’t be adding ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ to my collection anytime soon, but I do treasure the patch of G. woronowii in my garden.

Carolyn

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Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b/7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

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26 Responses to “The Sochi Snowdrop”

  1. Hello Carolyn,
    A really interesting and well written piece, and I like the topical link to Sochi. Thanks very much.
    It might interest you and other readers to know that the very expensive ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ bulb which you mention was apparently bought from ebay by Thompson and Morgan, one of the largest seed and plant suppliers to the British gardening public. The expectation was that they were going to try to bulk it up via micropropagation and then sell it to gardeners en masse in a few years time – they had previously scored a fantastic commercial success by doing this with 3 black flowered hyacinth bulbs bought in Holland for even larger sums of money, even though it took many years to bulk them up.
    However we heard last year from a local nurseryman that in fact their attempts had failed at the first hurdle and this very unusual expensive snowdrop is no more (other than at its garden of origin of course) …
    Perhaps allowing snowdrops to slowly multiply naturally is a safer bet after all!
    best wishes
    Julian

    • Julian, I get Thompson and Morgan’s seed catalogue over here and also heard they were the purchaser. I knew everything except the end of the story, that the bulb propagation didn’t work. However, I said at the time that, even if they lost the bulb, they got worldwide publicity in the horticultural world for less than $2,000. They probably don’t even care that they lost the bulb, and some marketing genius has been promoted. No need to worry about ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ though. It was sold to T&M on eBay by a Scottish nurseryman named Ian Christie. I have heard that he has it on sale this year for 150 pounds.

      Unfortunately, I read, I think on the RHS site, that construction for the Sochi Olympics destroyed one of only five sites in the world for another snowdrop species, G. panjutinii, which was just given species status in 2012. The construction is probably doing a number on G. woronowii’s habitat too, but fortunately it is not threatened. Carolyn

      • Carolyn,
        Really interesting reply, and I’m sure you’re right about the publicity issue. Big businesses really know how to play the game, don’t they. And how sad about the G. panujtinii, which I’ve not heard of before, so thanks for that. No doubt the planners came up with translocation of the rare bulb to a new location (with consequent poor chances of success in establishing it there) as part of the mitigation process .Or maybe their planning processes aren’t as convoluted and paper/tick box driven as ours?
        Julian

      • Here is what I read:

        Galanthus panjutinii is considered to be Endangered according to IUCN Red List criteria. It is known from only five locations, and its area of occupancy (AOO) is estimated to be 20 km2. The ongoing construction of facilities for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Sochi, has destroyed a large part of one location, and hence is a threat to the species.

        It turned out to be from the Kew site: http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Galanthus-panjutinii.htm.

  2. Very interesting. I always love hearing about the origins of plants and where they grow naturally in the wild. I like the color of these leaves a lot.

  3. Hi Carolyn… not sure I should mention it, but snowdrops is one thing I don’t have in my gardens… not certain that they’re hardy here. Yours are amazing! Larry

    • Larry, I am really surprised, you could grow them in your rock gardens or naturalize them anywhere under your many trees and shrubs. The Missouri Botanical Garden says G. elwesii/giant snowdrop is zones 4 to 7, G. nivalis/common snowdrop is zones 3 to 7, and G. ikariae, showing a photo of G. woronowii!!!, is zones 3 to 7. Give it a shot. Carolyn

  4. This is such a great blog…we learn from it, very informative, and still quite beautiful, with great photos. I´m adding to my favorite list!!

  5. Elizabeth Janoski Says:

    Carolyn,

    Do you have the hellebore “Pink Frost?” I believe it’s a David Culp cultivar?

    Thank you,

    Elizabeth

  6. Whenever I read your posts and see your catalogues it just makes me wish I lived nearby!

  7. This is one of my favourite snowdrops in the garden here because it is so different with its bright green leaves. My clumps haven’t increased like yours though, it seems to be seeding around, they come up quite a way from each other.

  8. mlmckinley@comcast.net Says:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I’ve enjoyed your blog through these strange winter days. Two things to report back to you – I selected several items from the “favorite tools” post and turned them into Christmas presents for my husband to great effect. And while we were out at Longwood for the Christmas display, we overheard one of their associates telling another visitor that the apples in that gorgeous display were to be donated to feed cows, presumably nearby.

    Hope all’s well – Meg McKinley

    • Meg, I am glad so many readers found the tool article so helpful. It was very nice of you to take the time to comment. Longwood had a sign discussing what would happen to the apples once the display was taken down. A guess they wanted to make sure that visitors knew that they weren’t wasting them. Carolyn

  9. It is amazing one bulb ca sell for so much. It really shows the fever of collectors built around snowdrops. I cannot imagine getting that excited about any one plant. Interesting history I must say.

    • Donna, I agree. If it was a pot of bulbs that would be one thing, but one bulb is so vulnerable. However, many galanthophiles in England have plenty of money, and it is really akin to buying designer clothes but lasts a lot longer because snowdrops don’t go out of fashion. Instead they multiply. Carolyn

  10. Thanks again for a great post with lots of info and great photos.
    As much as I would love to, I don’t think ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ will become part of my snowdrop collection either! But I added 75 G. woronowii last year and I look forward to seeing them this spring, they seem to be much later than the nivalis in my garden too. Have you any idea how many years it will take before each 10-12 snowdrops in groups, dotted around the garden, will look like proper clumps? They all look rather spaced out still.
    Take care, Helene.

    • Helene, I am constantly digging my G. woronowii and selling them so I don’t know what happens if you leave them alone. The really big clumps you saw were in Charles Cresson’s garden! I would think that with 75 they would start seeding. Look for tiny little sprigs and don’t weed them out by mistake. Carolyn

  11. I took home a clump of snowdrops from a seed swap last year and then bought some cheapo common snowdrops last fall. But I’m still looking forward to seeing them bloom. I stuck the bulbs in a pot next to my back door so I can see them first thing in the morning before work.

  12. Hi Carolyn
    Your never ending knowledge of Snowdrops never fails to amaze and entertain me. Even though the temperature can quickly change and remind us that it is Winter, doesn’t the sight of these white beauties just fill your mind with the thoughts of Spring.

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