Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum)
Leucojum is a small genus of bulbous plants belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family, subfamily Amaryllidoideae. As currently circumscribed the genus includes only two species, Leucojum vernum, the spring snowflake, and Leucojum aestivum, the summer snowflake or Loddon lily. Leucojum is a compound of Greek λευκος, leukos “white” and ἰόν, ion “violet”. The spelling Leucoium is also used. Other common names include snowbell, dewdrop, and St. Agnes’ flower.
The snowflakes are native to central and southern Europe, from the Pyrenees to Romania and western Russia, but they have been introduced and have naturalized in many other areas, including the east coast of North America. They have narrow, strap-like, dark green leaves. The flowers are small and bell-shaped, white with a green (or occasionally yellow) spot at the end of each tepal. They have a slight fragrance.
Leucojum vernum (Spring snowflake) normally grows 15-20 cm tall (6-8 in), though it may reach up to 35 cm (14 in). It flowers one or two weeks later than the snowdrops, i.e., from mid-February to March, as soon as the snow melts in its wild habitat.
Two varieties are known: L. vernum var. vernum with green spots on its tepals, and L. vernum var. carpathicum, which originates from the eastern part of its natural range, a larger plant with yellowish spots on its tepals; ‘vagneri’ from Hungary is a robust variant of var. vernum, often with two flowers per stem.
Leucojum aestivum (Summer snowflake) has a wider natural range, taking in Europe (including the British Isles), southwest Asia and northern Iran, and growing in wetter habitats including damp woodland, riversides and swamps. Despite its common name it flowers from April to May, though later than the Spring Snowflake. It is a taller plant than Leucojum vernum, growing to around 60 cm (2 ft), but its flowers are smaller and are carried in an umbel of between three and seven. Its fleshy seed pods are inflated, allowing them to be dispersed by flood water. Leucojum aestivum subsp. pulchellum (Salisb.) Briq., native to the western Mediterranean Basin, is smaller: 20 cm (8 in), and flowers 2 weeks earlier, i.e., from mid-March.