Sixty degree weather in February has created some unique opportunities for me this year. While it’s not quite late enough for much of anything to be growing or flowering, there are some typical early bloomers that appear almost out of place without a blanket of snow on the ground and nippy air on the nose. I wanted to find some of these early bloomers, but I wasn’t particularly interested in what was blooming in frontyards in the suburbs of Pittsburgh–I noticed a few gardens with bright purple crocus, winter aconite, a few hellebores, and some snow drops. So I took a walk after class to a local park that I have been fond of recently, Schenely Park.
Schenely Park is a relatively large park for its situation in the surrounding urban development. It features a variety of playgrounds, sports fields, a somewhat under-maintained goose pond, and a variety of trails. The true gem of Schenely Park, at least in my opinion, is simply its location. The park protects a handful of ravines and the streams that course through them. I visited one of these ravines to see what I could find growing there–if anything at all. After navigating my way through a dense patch of Japanese knotweed, I stumbled on a garden of snowdrops. Somehow these flowers proliferated here without the help of man.
Snow drops (Galanthus nivalis) are ornamentally planted throughout North America and Europe. They are one of the first flowers to bloom in many gardens and yards often alongside crocus and other bulbs. Snowdrops are monocots with six tepals–flower parts including sepals and petals. The white outer sepals are the largest and the three inner petals are less conspicuous with varying white and green markings–some cultivated varieties have sepals with green markings. The flowers hang downward in a pendulum fashion. The plants grow from bulbs with lanceolate leaves emerging at the same time as the single flower and outlasting the flower up to a month. The flower produces a fleshy capsule with many seeds inside. The seeds are typically distributed by ants which are attracted to a fleshy structure (the elaiosome) on the seeds. The ants carry the seeds to their underground ant colony and thus inadvertently plant them.
Snowdrops are native in much of Europe where they grow in woodlands. The flower has become naturalised in North America, The United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Snowdrops often form large colonies which are inconspicuous outside of the blooming period from January until May.