Why Snowdrops Don’t Freeze

snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus) are a member of the Amaryllis plant family (Amaryllidacede), which also includes daffodils (Narcissus), Agapanthus, onions and chives (Allium).

I photographed these snowdrops today at the Botanic Gardens here in Cambridge. I set the exposure compensation to minus one stop to avoid blowing out the highlights (the white petals of the flowers), and it seems to have worked.

Around a couple of the beds – and there are thousands of snowdrops in bloom at the Botanic Garden at the moment – are explanations and stories about snowdrops. One notice mentions that the stories are taken from A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus (published by Bishop, Davis & Grimshaw in 2001). And the rest of this post is taken from highlights in the display notices, including how snowdrops beat icy weather.

Why Snowdrops Don’t Freeze

In cold spells you will often see snowdrops collapse to the ground, only to resurrect themselves once the temperature rises.

Plant tissue is often damaged or killed by ice crystals forming in the cells during freezing. However, many plants, including snowdrops, have ‘anti-freeze’ proteins that help inhibit ice crystals forming and limit their growth, protecting the plant cells from damage.

Hardened Leaf Tips

Snowdrop leaves have specially hardened tips to help them break through frozen soil.

These are essential qualities for plants that grow and flower at the end of winter.

The outer segments of snowdrops move In response to changes in temperature. When air temperatures are above 10°C, pollinating insects such as bees are likely to be flying, and the petals move upwards and outwards, opening the flower for them.

Plants in medicines

The alkaloid Galantamine, used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, was first isolated from the snowdrop Galanthus woronowii. Galantamine is also found in other members of the Amaryllis plant family (Amaryllidacede), such as Narcissus and Leucojum. Today, Galantamine is mainly produced from plants: chemical synthesis is possible, but it is difficult and expensive.


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