Although snowdrops get the lion’s share of the attention at this time of year there is another, slightly similar, plant that deserves our attention. Although not as well known, Leucojum vernum is a pretty plant that flowers with or just after most snowdrops and is just as lovely. It is far less common than the taller, summer snowflake (L. aestivum), partly because the bulbs do not take so kindly to drying out and planting, dry, in autumn. The summer snowflake is rather misnamed because it often flowers quite early in spring and the plants here are just starting to bloom. But the two are easily distinguished because the summer snowflake is much taller, up to 60cm high, with smaller flowers in clusters of six or so. Although popular it is not a showy plant but has a gentle charm.
Leucojum vernum is a shorter plant, often flowering as the shoots emerge, at about 15cm high but the fully grown foliage is twice that. Mature bulbs produce several flower stems (scapes) with a single flower on each. What makes them different to snowdrops is that the six tepals are identical unlike snowdrops where the tepals are in two ranks with two different shapes (see below). In snowflakes each tepal ends in a green spot although in L. vernum var. carpaticum (above) the spots are yellow, making the flower really fresh and bright. The Hungarian L. vernum var. wagneri (vagneri) has two flowers per scape.
Spring snowflakes slowly form dense clumps but do not spread widely. They thrive in sun or part shade and prefer a moist soil.
All leucojums are European and the genus used to be bigger but the autumn-flowering species, those that have narrow leaves and unmarked tepals, have been moved to their own genus, Acis, in which, incidentally, they belonged before 1880!