With snowdrops, variety is in the details
Begin with reliable Galanthus nivalis. The common snowdrop is readily available and exceptionally hardy.
Snowdrops look somewhat like the flowers called snowflakes. The latter belong to the genus Leucojum, whereas snowdrops are members of the genus Galanthus. A derivative of the Greek gala, meaning milk, and anthos, meaning flower, Galanthus aptly describes the milk-white snowdrop.
At a distance, all snowdrops look pretty much alike. What fascinates me are the subtle variations between species within the genus Galanthus and between varieties within some of the species. Close inspection reveals the slightest differences in the size of the flowers, the height of the plants, the width of leaves, and the markings on the flowers.
The most reliable species is the one that bloomed in such a welcome manner in my garden, G. nivalis, the common snowdrop. Although G. nivalis usually flowers in March in my USDA Hardiness Zone 6 (–10°F) garden, two old English nicknames for this species, “Fair Maids of February” and “Candlemas Bells” (Candlemas falls on February 2nd), indicate that blossoming time may be significantly earlier under milder weather conditions.
G. nivalis, like many of its relatives, is exceptionally hardy, flourishing from Zones 3 to 8 (–40°F to 10°F). The narrow, pointed leaves, each with a hard, white tip, readily push through frozen ground and snow, to be followed soon after by the dainty blossoms. Each snowy white bloom bears a cap of bright green and dangles like a single tiny lantern from a strong stem. When closed, a trio of ovoid sepals gives each bloom its characteristic “drop” shape; when open, the inner triad of petals is revealed, each with a notch at the lower edge accented in emerald green. Though small, usually ranging from 3 to 4 inches high, G. nivalis is good for cutting, and makes an excellent candidate for miniature winter nosegays. Its faint, honeylike scent is more noticeable indoors than out.