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Garden Talk

giant snowdrop habit

Horticultural Highlight: Giant Snowdrop

Jason Holmes

In this series, the staff of Duke Gardens highlights plants you’ll find within our 55-acre living collection. This week Doris Duke Center Gardens curator Jason Holmes talks about an unusual species of snowdrops.




giant snowdrop close-up

Botanical name: Galanthus elwesii
Common name: Giant snowdrop
Family name: Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis Family)
Plant type: Perennial spring bulb
Native range: Mountain regions of west Turkey through the Balkans
Location within Duke Gardens: Spring Woodland Garden
Site requirements: Dappled deciduous shade where it may have full sun in winter

The genus name comes from the Greek words gala (milk) and anthos (flower), which refers to the color of the flowers. The specific epithet honors Henry John Elwes (1846-1922), an English entomologist, botanist and naturalist who reportedly introduced the plant into cultivation.

Giant snowdrop is most often cultivated in woodland sites, where the soil is slightly drier and the deciduous shade gives way to full winter sun. These bulbs emerge and produce their little snowdrop flowers in February and March. Three white petals surround the inner perianth, which is adorned with characteristic green blotches.

After bloom these bulbs set seed, and often by May they have withered away to their dormant state until the next cold season. We plant these in masses and often in individual groupings as they grow natively.

They are easily found in the fall (the best time to plant them) at local garden centers. These blooming bulbs remind us that spring is near, and they have been a source of inspiration for gardeners for hundreds of years—including here in the beautiful stonework of the Spring Woodland Garden.

 stone masonry featuring snowdrops

Photos by Jason Holmes. Stone masonry by Brooks Burleson.

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