This year winter has lived up to expectations and has been more reminiscent of winters of this writer’s youth. It has been wet, windy, chilly and, so far, we have seen snow in December and January even if it did not lie for very long. Not very cheerful perhaps, but somewhat more normal in these times of rapid climate change although we have been lucky to avoid the flooding experienced elsewhere in the country. In this respect the floodplain meadows protect the town.
With lengthening days, spring cannot be too far off and during February this is confirmed by the emerging displays of snowdrops. Although we take this harbinger of Spring for granted, the snowdrop is not native to England, having been introduced in the sixteenth century from southern Europe. John Gerard included it in his influential 1597 herbal. Its botanical name of ‘snowy milk-white flower’ accurately reflects its very pleasing look.
Rather astonishingly there are around two thousand five hundred cultivars, some of which command very high prices. However, they can be enjoyed for free where they are naturalised, having been washed downstream on floodwaters from riverside gardens in Clare and Cavendish. The plantations either side of Brundon lane have increasing populations and there is also a lovely display at the Rodbridge end of the Valley Trail. Chancing across snowdrops certainly lifts the spirits at what can be a rather gloomy time of year.
Even during February temperatures can rise a little and then the snowdrops open their petals to reveal their pollen and nectar. This provides a vital source of food for early flying bees. Sadly, in some of their native habitats snowdrops have become endangered through digging up for sale. The sale of bulbs from the wild in now prohibited although such measures often come rather late in the day because it takes time to realise the damage that has been caused.
There is rather more to snowdrops than meets the eye. They contain a natural antifreeze to cope with the inclement weather at this time of year. This humble plant also contains an alkaloid which is used in the management of Alzheimer’s as well as the treatment of traumatic injuries to the nervous system. It also contains lectin, an insecticide, so there is certainly more to it than a spirit-lifting flower.