Sunday, December 30, 2007

Leucojum... Snowflakes In Spring And Fall

Snowflakes (genus leucojum) have been called "the poor cousin snowdrops", and indeed they are closely related to galanthus, the snowdrops. I have two species of leucojum growing in the garden; or perhaps I should say had, as the little flower at the bottom used to be Leucojum autumnale, but it has been moved into the genus Acis, and is now Acis autumnalis; as if that isn't confusing enough, I purchased this little bulb labeled as Leucojum nicaeensis, a rare species of snowflake from a small area of coastal France that blooms in spring... my bulb insists on blooming in the fall, and is obviously the commoner Leucojum (excuse me... Acis) autumalis.
Only two species are left in the genus leucojum; the summer snowflake ( Leucojum aestivum, shown in the top two pictures) and the spring snowflake, Leucojum vernum; an additional bit of puzzlement is that they both actually bloom in the spring, though the aestivum does bloom a couple of weeks after vernum, the above pictures being from mid-April. Leucojum aestivum is easy to feel ambivalent about; it has a LOT of foliage for its small flowers (rather like lusty, thick daffodil foliage), and the foliage persists for a longer time, flopping all over everything else and smothering its neighbors, especially as it multiplies mightily... you'll soon have a whole bed of snowflakes. I plan to banish this bulb from my beds, moving them all to the open woods. There is a slightly larger flowered form of aestivum, Gravetye Giant, that would probably be worth spending a little more for.
I mean to someday try the spring snowflake, but one must have the proper spot for it to succeed, and I am lacking in that department; Leucojum vernum hails from central to eastern Europe, growing in moist, cool spots with running water. Apparently if the bulbs dry out in summer, they tend to die out. Leucojum aestivum, on the other hand grows more southerly, down through the Caucasus to Iran, and is much tougher and more tolerant of dryness... I've had bulbs pulled and thrown on the ground, root and bloom. There are two varieties of the spring snowflake, and if ever I try it, I'll want to obtain the form growing in eastern Europe that has yellow spots instead of green, at the petal tips. Leucojum aestivum is a much larger plant in all its parts (about 18 inches tall here), while vernum is perhaps 6-8 inches tall.
There are now eight species in Acis, that were formerly in Leucojum; in addition to autumnalis which I have, and nicaeensis, which I thought I had, there is Acis rosea, a frail, tiny pink flowered form that many have heard of, but few have grown successfully. Acis is characterized by having narrow, grassy foliage, spotless flowers, and solid flower stems. They are all rather small and challenging to grow, putting out their foliage in late summer to fall, and most also blooming in the fall; they come from, and are better suited to cultivation in, true Mediterranean climates. So far Acis autumnalis is doing fine here, but plants from other parts of the world that produce their foliage in fall and expect to persist through our winters are always considered guests in our garden rather than permanent residents. I could easily see the fine, hair-like foliage and tiny bulbs of Acis autumnalis turning to mush under the ice some foul winter; come to think of it, this is about as foul a winter as there could be, so we shall see how this delicate little bulb is doing when the piles and drifts of ice and snow finally melt in spring... will it jauntily greet the March sun, or will it melt with the rest of the snowflakes.
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