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Galanthus plicatus

Galanthus plicatus Sometimes called the Crimean Snowdrop, Galanthus plicatus is indigenous to coastal area near the Black Sea, including Crimea. During the Crimean War of the 1850s British soldiers were amazed to see the battlefields covered in snowdrops after the harsh winter, and several took bulbs home with them. The species had been known in western European gardens since the Sixteenth Century, however. It is a larger plant than the Common Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, with broader foliage characterised by the folding-under (explication) of the leaf margin when young. This, and the ‘fold lines’ left on the mature leaf, give the plant its specific name, which means ‘pleated.’

Two subspecies are recognised. G. plicatus subsp. plicatus comes from northern Turkey, Romania and the Crimea, and has a single green mark at the apex of the inner perianth segments. Subsp. byzantinus comes from the vicinity of Istanbul and has both an apical and a basal marking on the inner perianth segments. The two hybridise readily in gardens and the distinction may become blurred in cultivated material.

A number of selections have been made, many with large flowers and big broad leaves being among the largest snowdrops. Among these are ‘Diggory’, ‘Gerard Parker’, ‘Florence Baker’ and ‘Colossus’. A robust but not exceptionally large clone is known as ‘Warham’ having been selected from a naturalised population in Warham, Norfolk, reputedly descended from Crimean bulbs. As with all Galanthus, examples are known with green tips to their outer perianth segments: ‘Greenfinch’ is exceptionally fine. Several cultivars with yellow ovaries and inner segment markings are known, including ‘Wendy’s Gold’. Perhaps most striking of all G. plicatus cultivars is ‘Trym’ a real curiosity in which the long white outer segments have been replaced with another whorl of inner segments, creating a little triangular flower with a big green marking on the outside.

Galanthus plicatus crosses freely with other species and many of the finest hybrid cultivars are derived in part from this species. Crosses with G. nivalis have given rise to classics such as ‘S. Arnott’ and ‘Magnet’ and the Greatorex Doubles; with G. elwesii the progeny include ‘Merlin’, ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘George Elwes’, while many beautiful but often short-lived seedlings arise as hybrids with G. gracilis.

In the garden G. plicatus enjoys light woodland conditions that do not become too warm in summer and will often self-sow freely in such situations. As with all snowdrops it is best transplanted when entering dormancy or when fully dormant. The chief threat is the fungal disease Stagonospora curtisii, to which it seems particularly sensitive. It can be recognised by distorted leaves and reddish-brown discoloured patches on the shoot and bulb. Treatment is with a fungicide containing carbendazim.

John Grimshaw