Galanthus reginae-olgae is an autumn-flowering snowdrop and, for a budding galanthophile, the early blooms are a cause for great excitement. The sudden change from summer sun to wet, dull autumn this year made the arrival of a delicate, pure white flower even more welcome.
Many people of my acquaintance don’t like snowdrops appearing in October, feeling that they are a winter flower that should stay below ground until at least January. But, for me, these early blooms announce the beginning of a wonderful journey through myriad Galanthus species and cultivars over the coming months.
And, if ever we needed something to look forward to, surely it’s now!
What makes Galanthus reginae-olgae so special?
Well, let’s start with the name. Galanthus reginae-olgae was named in 1876, in honour of Queen Olga of Greece, who was the grandmother of the UK’s Duke of Edinburgh. It was probably first collected in the Peloponnese and named by a Greek botanist, so this seems quite appropriate.
Its chief virtue, though, especially for snowdrop enthusiasts, is its early flowering. It is very similar to Galanthus nivalis and was originally considered to be a subspecies. Both species have applenate vernation (the leaves are held flat against one another in the bud), narrow leaves, and a single green mark at the apex of each inner perianth segment. However, there are differences between the two. G. nivalis flowers in late winter to early spring whereas G. reginae-olgae is autumn flowering. In gardens, blooms can be found from September, with the main display in October going into November and December. These plants would be from the subspecies reginae-olgae. From late December G. reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis takes over, with some clones flowering into March.
Is it different in any other way?
Yes. The leaves are dark green and have a conspicuous glaucous stripe down the centre. Although not unique, G. reginae-olgae has an unusual feature – these leaves are either very short or absent when the plant begins to flower. In G. reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis the leaves are always present at flowering, usually at least several centimetres long, whereas in G. reginae-olgae subsp. reginae-olgae, they are either absent or very short at flowering time. You can see in the image above that the absence of leaves makes the flowers look more delicate and fragile.
Does Galanthus reginae-olgae grow in the wild anywhere other than Greece?
Galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. reginae-olgae is mainly found in Greece, on the mainland, the Peloponnese, and Corfu. Sicily can be added to that list. The distribution of Galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis is similar to that of subsp. reginae-olgae but is found further north in Croatia, Bosnia and Hertzegovina, and Montenegro. It probably grows in Albania but has not been found in Corfu.
These snowdrops are most common in or near woodland and mainly grow in damp, north-facing shady places among rocks at altitudes from near sea-level to 1300 m.
Galanthus reginae-olgae in cultivation
Although it comes from the Mediterranean region, it seems to be cold hardy in the UK, given a warm, sunny spot, but does have a reputation among some for being difficult to grow.
Since its first collection in the mid 1870s, keen growers have been looking for variations in flower size and shape, size and shape of the apical mark on the inner segments, and any possible green marks on the outer segments. If these differences are constant and distinct enough the plant might be named as a form of the species, or be given a cultivar name. Some people think that cultivar names are given too often to very similar plants, others think, ‘the more the merrier.’
The list of cultivars is added to every year so there are lots of plants to keep enthusiasts interested and happy. I only have two at the moment, ‘Cambridge’ and ‘Christine’, so have plenty of scope for a larger collection. In the meantime, I’m waiting expectantly for them to make an appearance.
Are there any other species that flower in the autumn?
Apparently, yes, there are, including a newly discovered one. So I need to do more research – and buy more snowdrops!
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