Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Do You Collect Snowdrops In Flower?

To those who love and collect snowdrops, little distinctions make these bulbs worth the hunt.

"You start looking at them a little closer, and you get stuck on these tiny, minute differences, and it all starts making sense and the biggest excitement about snowdrops is that they start blooming now."

Something happens in the last days of winter, as the little white flowers pop through snow, signaling spring before the litany of tulips and daffodils steal the show. The snowdrop so small, you have to bend down and look holds its own in the garden because of its lively appearance when everything else looks dead. Lately, it has earned something of a cult following among hard core gardeners and plant collectors in the United States, following its popularity in England, where tour buses trek out to snowdrop fields in February. Hundreds of new varieties have been discovered in recent years, which are known in the gardening world as galanthophiles, named after the snowdrop's Latin name, Galanthus.

"The snowdrop crazies are crazy, and they love the smallest difference and since I'm one of them, I'm aware it's not a normal preoccupation."

Each year, Jonathan Shaw, a Sandwich, Mass., collector who boasts more than 100 different snowdrop varieties, hosts a "Snowdrop Tea" where he auctions off some rare varieties, and gives away more common ones for attendees to take home. Mr. Shaw estimates he has roughly 8,000 snowdrops currently in bloom, mainly along paths around his garden.

While many flower bulbs are crossed to produce hybrids of every possible shape, color and size, the vast majority of snowdrop varieties are simply found in nature, rather than bred in greenhouses. Two varieties might cross in someone's backyard, creating seedlings with different characteristics from their parents. This kind of serendipity adds to its allure.

"In the last 10 years, there are at least 1,000, if not 1,500, new names in circulation of snowdrops. Because of the mania, everyone is finding new things and putting names on them, whether they deserve them or not,"

Trade restrictions on snowdrops mean American collectors can't freely purchase varieties sold in overseas catalogs and nurseries. In 1990, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora listed snowdrops as vulnerable in their wild habitats of Turkey, requiring protection from excessive collecting. That is why imports and exports of snowdrops require more permits than many other plants.