Saturday, February 26, 2011

Snowdrops


Snowdrops were late putting in an appearance this year. I've often found them around here in flower in mid-January, but the ground was still deep frozen at that time.Now they are at their best and today we saw some very fine displays in Teesdale. It's a plant that's most common in river valleys around here, no doubt because the small bulbs that proliferate after flowering are swept down river and thrive in the alluvial soils when they are stranded after flood waters recede. This was one of many well established patches in the woodlands beside the River Tees, between Egglestone and the Meeting of the Waters, where the Tees meets the River Greta. There were even a few honeybees around, visiting the flowers, in this afternoon's sunshine.


It's unlikely that snowdrop is a native British species. It comes from milder parts of Europe and is what would be known today as an alien species. It is known to have been cultivated in gardens in 1597 but the first record of it in the wild only dates from 1778. Today most people look forward to the appearance of the flowers in the wild in late winter but if it was a new introduction, rather that one that has been here for at least four centuries, no doubt there would be a lot of press hysteria about 'yet another alien species invading our countryside'. I wonder how many garden species that are currently escaping into the wild will be viewed with similar affection to the snowdrop four centuries from now?


Snowdrops are often associated with churchyards and it may be that they were often deliberately planted there because their pure white flowers are associated with Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, which takes place on February 2nd., when the plant is always in flower. These plants were photographed in St. James Churchyard, just outside of Hamsterley village on the edge of Weardale, this afternoon.


As we were leaving (as you can see from the weak winter sunshine shadow, at 2 o'clock) I noticed this sundial on the porch of the church. The inscription at the top reads "Man Fleeth as it were a Shadow" - a timely reminder that at this time of year, on the threshold of spring, there is so much to see and so little time....."


10 comments:

  1. Love the post. I read a book on invasive species recently that pointed out that humans have only studied the ocean for a brief time, way shorter than the time that humans have been moving ballast water everywhere. So, we will probably never know what was native to where. Does that mean that 500 years from now no one will think of Himalayan Blackberry, Scotch Broom, or Japanese Knotweed as foreign? I guess their names might give their origins away.

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  2. enjoyed reading that, learned lots - took the family down Hawthorn this afternoon to look at them along the top path.

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  3. I enjoyed your post so much that I read it twice. The snowdrops are exquisite. The fear of 'alien species' has not taken root in India still.

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  4. I was in the UK this time last year and enjoying snowdrops, crocus and a few Narcissus.
    Here in Southern Ontario, snowdrops are pushing out of the snow, but it will be another four weeks before we are at the stage you are in at the moment.

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  5. Jam packed with interest as is customary.
    I must admit to a fondness for Giant Hogweed...suspect i'm in a majority of one!

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  6. Hi Mike, an interesting thought. With the onset of climate change it seems that a shift in the plant species composition of native floras is inevitable, with introduced aliens gaining more of a root-hold. From the evolutionary biologists' perspective the living world is a dynamic process rather than a static museum of present-day biodiversity, so I guess it depends on your perspective. As with so much in the conservation world, what we choose to accept and protect is sometimes based on subjective reactions. Here in the UK the horse chestnut, with its shiny brown conkers that are used in a tradional children's game, is a much loved species despite the fact that it was introduced from Albania a mere 400 years ago!

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  7. That display of snowdrops on your blog is amazing Stevie - never been to see then, but I will now! Cheers! Phil

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  8. Thanks lotusleaf. I saw another fine display of snowdrops this afternoon, along the River Tyne at Wylam..... it's a very common plant here, and a very welcome one!

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  9. Hello Barry, the hard tips of their leaves had a real struggle spearing through the soil here during the bitterly cold weather after Christmas.

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  10. Hi Adrian, given the fact that our flora is pretty poor, due to accidents of geology and climate, I have a soft-spot for aliens in general. They make botanical life more interesting.

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