Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is a botanical genus of nearly 20 species of plants in the family Amaryllidaceae. The drooping flowers are small, white, and bell-shaped, with green markings on the inner petals. The two leaves are basal, linear, strap-shaped, and resembling blades of grass. In many climates, snowdrops are the first flowers to appear in the spring. They can often be seen blooming in the midst of a snow cover. Snowdrops have a wide geographical distribution, from Europe to Iran and the Caspian Sea. This, seemingly tender flower is, in fact, very hardy. Thus, a common snowdrop flower meaning is strength, fortitude and hope.
The genus name Galanthus is of Ancient Greek origin and it comes from gala, meaning “milk” and anthos, meaning flower —an obvious reference to its color. The Latin epithet nivalis means “of the snow”. A full translation of the flower’s scientific name, given by Carl Linnaeus, is “milk flower of the snow”.
The flower’s common name, snowdrop, is derived from the German word Schneetropfen, meaning snow-drop. The “drop” part of the name is not a reference to snow, but to the long, tear-shaped pendants and earrings (drops) worn by the women in the sixteenth and the seventeenth century. These “drop” earrings can be seen in many Dutch and Italian paintings of that period. The flower is also known under other descriptive names, including Foolish Maids, Candlemas Bells, Church Flower, Dingle-Dangle, Fair Maid of February, Mary’s Tapers, Winter Gilliflower, and Snow Piercer.
Snowdrop Flower Symbolism
Snowdrop flowers have a rich lore in many cultures and traditions around the world.
Snowdrop Flower as a Symbol of Mother Mary and Purity
The snowdrop flower has been named the “Fair Maid of February” and associated with February 2. In Christianity, this is the day of the Purification of the Virgin. The story goes that on that day, Virgin Mary’s image was removed from the altar, and snowdrop flowers appeared in its place. It is also said that the delicate snowdrop blossoms resemble the maidens who, dressed in white, walked in procession at the Feast of Purification. Another christian story goes that on February 2, known as Candlemas Day, Mother Mart took her child Jesus to the Jewish Temple. She there presented an offering of a lamb and a pigeon, as a symbol of her purity. On that occasion, chaste snowdrops sprung from her footprints. For this reason, the snowdrop is also known as Candlemas Bells flower.
Due to its immaculate whiteness, the snowdrop flower meaning is associated with purity and virginity. Snowdrops were often found in the gardens and orchards of monastic communities.
Snowdrop Flower as a Symbol of Hope and Rebirth
Legend goes that after the fall of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the Garden of Eden, snow began to fall. As a result, the earth became completely barren. Flowers could bloom no more. Seeing this, Eve felt even more lonely and despondent, and she began to mourn. The angel saw her sorry and went to console her. The angel caught a snowflake in the air, breathed into it, and commanded it to assume a form.
As soon as the snowflake fell in the ground, it turned into the lovely snowdrop flower. In awe at what she had just witnessed, Eve finally smiled and considered it more precious than any other flower in the Paradise. The angel, too, assured Eve that the arrival of this flower was a messenger of the forthcoming sun and summer. Based on this story, one of the strongest snowdrop flower meaning became consolation, hope and rebirth.
Snowdrop Flower as a Symbol of Kindness and Friendship
Some snowdrop flower meaning is derived from an old German folktale. The story goes that long ago, at the beginning of time, the Snow needed to find its color. It sought a suitable color among the beautiful flowers. But all the flowers jealously guarded their colors, and refused to help the Snow. The main reason for their unfriendly behavior was their belief that Snow was cold and brought discomfort. The only flower that was kind enough to offer their color to the Show were the snowdrops. As a result, the Snow became white. To repay for the kindness of the lovely little snowdrops, the Snow protected them from cold and ice. Thus, it is said, the Snow and the snowdrops remain friends, always sitting side by side.
Snowdrop Flower as a Symbol of Braveness and Strength
A Moldovan story tells of an almost mythical battle between Winter Witch and lady Spring. In that battle, the Spring ferociously opposed Winter and got wounded. From the spilled blood of the heroic Spring, snowdrop flowers sprouted and bloomed. Therefore, another snowdrop flower meaning is that of braveness and strength.
Snowdrop Flower as a Symbol of Danger
The snowdrop flower did not always have a reputation of a pure, protective and auspicious flower.
According to an old folk belief from England, it was once considered unlucky to bring the first snowdrop indoors. Such a flower was regarded as a death-token, as some believed that the flower resembled a corpse in its shroud. Another reason for associating snowdrops to death was the flower’s short stem and its downward orientation. People used to say that the snowdrop flower always kept itself close to the earth, belonging more to the dead than to the living.
A more extreme version of this superstition goes that a mere sight of a single snowdrop flower growing in one’s garden is a bad omen that announces a forthcoming disaster. It was absolutely forbidden to bring snowdrop flowers as a gift to a patient in a hospital, as such an act was seen as a death sentence. For this reason, in Somerset, snowdrops were also called Death’s Flower. In Wales, it was believed that snowdrops plucked on St. Valentine’s Day and taken indoors could cause a death of a family member and spoiling of the cow’s milk. There were, however, certain exceptions to this dreadful rule. For example, it was believed that only cut snowdrops were unlucky, and that snowdrops grown in pots were safe to bring in the house.
Snowdrop Flower as a Symbol of Good Luck
According to an old belief from lowland Scotland, the person who finds a snowdrop flower before January 1 would be exceptionally lucky throughout the entire year.
What Do the Various Colors of the Snowdrop Flower Mean
All snowdrop flowers are white. Therefore, there is no color-specific symbolism attributed to these flowers.
White Snowdrop Flower Meaning
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In the symbolic language of flowers, white snowdrop flower meaning includes purity, hope (especially hope in sorrow), consolation, friend in need and friend in adversity.
Interesting Facts and Characteristics of the Snowdrop Flower
- In European traditional medicine, an ointment made of crushed bulbs of snowdrop flowers was used to treat frostbite, chilblains and glaucoma.
- Modern medicine uses snowdrops in treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
- The Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen has recorded a folktale named “The Snowdrop”. A girl sends a snowdrop flower to her short-term boyfriend, making a “summer fool” of him, for she is determined to find herself a new boyfriend by midsummer.
- Snowdrops are native to Europe and Middle East.
- The snowdrops are poisonous to humans and can be fatal.
- The snowdrops have a status of endangered species in several countries, and their International trade is banned.
- There is a special name for collectors of snowdrop varieties — they are called Galanthophiles.
The Best Time to Gift Someone Snowdrop Flower
The diverse symbology and folklore related to the snowdrop flower make it a unique gift. A handful of snowdrop flowers can be given to a close friend in times of sorrow and adversity, as a symbol of encouragement, support and hope. Spiritually inclined family members and friends will appreciate a gift of snowdrop flowers, as they symbolize purity of the soul. Above all, being harbingers of the spring, snowdrops are sure to bring happiness and smiles to everyone who receives them.