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If by the 10th the snowdrops are out.

More snow throughout the month without a doubt.

It is quite fitting that I write this page on the 2nd of February as this is Candlemas Day which was/is strongly associated with the first snowdrops of the year appearing. At some of the Candlemas processions girls would be dressed in white and recite the following; “The snowdrop, in purest white array, First rears it head on Candlemas Day.” The tiny flower has always been regarded as a symbol of purity and hope as well as being the first signs that winter is on its way out. Some other local names for the snowdrop are Candlemas Bells alluding to the bell-like shape of the flower and Fair Maids associated with purity and virgins. One story relates how an angel once transformed falling snowflakes into snowdrops to give to Adam and Eve as a symbol of hope. There is also a theory that the flower’s actual name does not refer to its shape being similar to a drop of snow, afterall we speak of a snow flake not drop. An old term for an earring was ‘eardrop’ and it is that which supposedly the snowdrop resembles, an white earring?

To be botanically correct the snowdrop belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family and its genus is Galanthus nivalis which comes from the Greek gala (milk) and anthos (flower). Some will say that it was the Romans who introduced the flower to Britain but it is more likely that it appeared sometime in the 1500s. The plant of the snowdrop is known to contain a substance called galantamine an extract of which is now used for alleviating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people have been known to rub the plant on their foreheads to ease migraines and headaches.

Already now the snow-drop dares appear,

The first pale blossom of th’ unripen’d year:

As Flora’s breath, by some transforming power,

Had changed an icicle into a flower.

Its name and hue the scentless plant retains,

And winter lingers in its icy veins.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld.

There was a strong belief that snowdrops should never be brought into a house as they would attract an illness or big disappointment into the home. The worst anyone could ever do was to pick a single snowdrop and bring that into the house, so much so that it was considered a death token. This belief came from the fact that the flower resembled a corpse wound in its shroud. There was a strange contradiction to this belief which appeared in the folklore section of the transactions of the Devonshire Association in 1974. It was reported that a well-wisher offered a bunch of snowdrops to an Exeter hospital and was told not to include any ivy in the posies? If the above is true then they should have been more concerned about the snowdrops, especially in a hospital. Should snowdrops be taken into the house whilst any hens were sitting then their eggs would never hatch. For those with dairy cows it would mean that the milk and butter would be watery and tasteless. If anyone had designs of getting married then no snowdrop should be picked before Valentine’s Day or else they would remain on their lonesome for the rest of that year. I was also once told that as the snowdrop is normally the first flower to appear in winter the Piskies used to take its nectar for their revels. Therefore it was not unusual to spot the little folk busy at work in a clump of snowdrops.


Dartmoor Snowdrops courtesy of Dartmoor CAM

The snowdrop can be found in many Dartmoor hedgerows and woods and a unique spectacle are those growing in the churchyard of St. Raphael’s at Huccaby. So prolific are they that on St. Valentine’s day there is a sale of bulbs.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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