From: Davis (1999). Permission has been granted by the author.
G. elwesii Hook. f., in Bot. Mag. 101: t. 6166 (1875), name conserved (ICBN).
BULB ovoid to ± spherical, 2.1–2.7(–3.5) x (1.5–)1.8–2.5(–3) cm. SHEATH 3–6 x 0.5–0.8 cm. Vernation supervolute. LEAVES narrowly oblanceolate to oblanceolate (slightly to markedly broader in the middle to upper third), sometimes narrowed at the base, at flowering (4.8–)5.5–25(–28) x (0.7–)2–3.4(–3.6) cm, after flowering developing to 10–26(–32) x (0.7–)2.2–3.5(–3.7) cm, usually erect at maturity and infrequently slightly twisted (on the vertical axis); midrib conspicuous; margins flat; apex obtuse to acute, often with a short point at the tip, slightly to conspicuously hooded; surfaces smooth, sometimes with two (rarely four) longitudinal folds (leaves bent slightly upwards or slightly downwards); upper and lower surfaces ± the same colour, glaucous (blue-grey to grey), or infrequently glaucescent, matt. SCAPE 9–18 cm long, glaucous. PEDICEL 14–31 mm long. OUTER PERIANTH segments obovate to broadly obovate or infrequently ± circular, or ± elliptic, 18–23(–27) x 1–15(–23) mm, slightly unguiculate to unguiculate. INNER PERIANTH segments obovate to ± obtriangular, 10–12 x 6–8 mm, each segment with a sinus and an apical ± V- to U-shaped, or ± heart-shaped, green mark, sometimes the mark much larger and covering up to half of the segment, or each segment with two marks, one apical and one basal, the second (basal) mark at the base and covering up to slightly more than half of the segment, or mark a broad horizontal stripe, or rectangular to ± circular, infrequently this mark divided into two longitudinally, the apical and basal marks sometimes united to form one large ± X-shaped mark; inner face of each segment with a faint green mark similar to the mark(s) on the outer face. ANTHERS tapering to a long point. CAPSULE ± spherical, 10–16 mm in diameter. SEEDS pale brown, c.4 mm long.
Flowers between February and May in nature; October and March in cultivation.
Notes: Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, from 1865 to 1885, described Galanthus elwesii in 1875, naming it after the plant collector, sportsman and traveller Henry John Elwes (1846–1922). The original plants collected by Elwes, which Hooker used as the type specimen for G. elwesii, have since been found to represent the broad-leaved variant of G. gracilis (Davis 1997, 1999). To maintain the use of G. elwesii with the sense to which it has been so widely and long applied, this name has been conserved with a different type specimen (see ICBN, Greuter et al. 2000: 388).
Galanthus elwesii is probably the most common species in cultivation after G. nivalis. This is due to its long history in cultivation, its adaptability, and its wide availability in commerce. According to Elwes (1930), the first commercial imports of snowdrop bulbs from Turkey were arranged by himself in 1874, after which the trade burgeoned, with huge numbers of wild-collected bulbs being exported annually from Turkey. In the early 1980s onwards this trade increased dramatically, with many millions of G. elwesii being exported via the Netherlands. The large numbers of Galanthus bulbs coming into commerce caused great concern, because it was uncertain whether the collection of bulbs in such high numbers was sustainable. For this and other reasons, Galanthus was placed on Appendix II of CITES in 1990. The wild harvesting of G. elwesii bulbs is now carefully controlled and monitored, and realistic export quotas are set each year.
Of the many millions of bulbs imported from Turkey, only a very small proportion ever became established in gardens. The survivors, however, have given us some of the best snowdrop cultivars, including ‘Comet’ and ‘Big Boy’, and G. elwesii is also involved in the parentage of many important hybrids, including ‘Colesborne’, ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ and ‘Robin Hood’.
Galanthus elwesii is an easily recognized species, simply because it is usually a large plant, with broad glaucous leaves, large flowers, and bold markings on the inner segments. The vernation is distinctly supervolute, and one leaf always remains clasped around the other at maturity. The green markings on the inner perianth segments are of three basic types. The first type has two separate marks on each segment, one at the apex and one at the base. The apical mark is usually V- or U-shaped, and the basal mark is more or less rectangular to transversely oblong (a band), or nearly circular. The second type is represented by one large mark, which spans the length and often the greater part of the surface area of the segment. This large mark is often more or less X-shaped, but in some instances the entire segment is more or less all green, apart from a narrow white margin. The third type, frequent in cultivation but rare in the wild, is a single apical mark, which may be V- to U-shaped, or larger and more or less heart-shaped. Variants of G. elwesii with a single apical mark on each inner segment have been given the name G. elwesii var. monostictus (see below).
Galanthus elwesii has a relatively wide natural distribution, being found in eastern parts of the former Yugoslavia, northern Greece, the eastern Aegean Islands, southern Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Turkey (in Asia). The largest and most extensive populations are probably found in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey. Studies of Galanthus in western Turkey and Greece have shown that many of the populations formerly identified as G. elwesii are actually G. gracilis, and further investigations are needed to ascertain the true distribution of G. elwesii. Throughout its range G. elwesii is predominantly a species of high altitudes, occurring mostly on mountains above 800 m and up to 1,600 m. It occurs in broad-leaved and coniferous woodland, for example with oak (Quercus spp.), beech (Fagus orientalis), maple (Acer spp.), and with pines (Pinus spp.), Cilician fir (Abies cilicia), and cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). It may also occur in scrub, in grassland, amongst large rocks, and in pockets of soil on rocks and cliff faces. Galanthus elwesii usually grows in areas that are snow-covered during the winter, and remain cool in the summer. Like many other species of Galanthus, G. elwesii is usually found in northfacing locations, which provide cooler and wetter conditions than other aspects. The bulbs are usually located deep in the soil, between 15 and 22 cm down, with the deepest bulbs occurring where plants grow in pockets of soil in rocks and cliffs. Galanthus elwesii is frequently encountered in limestone areas, but also occurs on soils of igneous and metamorphic rocks. As with most other Galanthus species, G. elwesii does not grow in places that have been severely modified by humans, such as pasture and deforested areas.
Galanthus elwesii is a very variable species, both in the wild and in cultivation. In natural populations a wide spectrum of variation can exist even over a small area. For example, in an area of 10 m2, the height can vary from 8 to 25 cm, the width of the leaves from 0.8 to 2.7 cm, and the length of the flowers from 1.8 to 3.5 cm, and there is incredible diversity in the shape and size of the inner segment markings. The shape of the closed flower may be globose, subglobose, ellipsoid, or pear-shaped. Occasionally, quite odd plants are encountered in natural populations, such as some with extra-long pedicels, greatly enlarged ‘puffy’ outer perianth segments, or outer segments that are bent backwards resembling the flowers of a cyclamen. Less common are the real freaks, such as those having two flowers on each scape, or two flowers per pedicel (with the ovaries fused together).
Galanthus elwesii is a first-class garden plant, being robust, decorative, freeflowering, and easy to grow. In addition, it is a variable species with numerous variants and cultivars, which can be put to use in the garden without fear of repetition. Amongst its many attributes is the length of its flowering season in cultivation particularly when one includes cultivars of G. elwesii var. monostictus, which flower from October to March. Many gardeners like this species because of its large size and impact: the width and colour of the leaves, coupled with its bold and distinctive markings, give it a real presence in the garden.
Wild-collected G. elwesii, such as those exported from Turkey, do not always make such good garden plants as their cultivated cousins which have been produced from reliable, tried-and-tested stock. Cultivars and garden variants of G. elwesii have been selected, or have survived in cultivation, due to their ability to grow and multiply successfully in gardens. Bulbs from the wild are an unknown quantity, and may not be suited to either the local climate or a particular situation in the garden.
Key to varieties of Galanthus elwesii:
Each inner perianth segment with two green marks, one apical and one basal, or one large ± X-shaped mark extending over more than half of segment ..................................................................................... var. elwesii
Each inner perianth segment with one apical green mark, which rarely covers more than half of segment ................................................................................................................................................ var. monostictus
Bulgaria, Greece (including E. Aegean Islands), Turkey, Ukraine, the former Yugoslavia.