Galanthus woronowii (Woronow's snowdrop)
A snowdrop with wide, green, shiny leaves, Galanthus woronowii is currently the subject of research into sustainable harvesting of bulbous plants.
The delicate white flower of Galanthus woronowii
Galanthus woronowii Losinsk.
Not evaluated by IUCN.
Deciduous, mixed deciduous, coniferous and mixed deciduous-coniferous forest; in leaf litter humus-rich soils, or in stony and rocky places.
Ornamental. Medicinal (galanthamine).
Cases of poisoning have occurred when snowdrop bulbs have been mistaken for onions and eaten.
About this species
A snowdrop native to Turkey, Russia and Georgia, Galanthus woronowii was named in honour of the Russian botanist and plant collector Georg Woronow (1874–1931). It is popular in cultivation in Europe, and valued for its wide, green, shiny leaves, which provide good ground-cover and contrast with the leaves of the commonly grown snowdrop G. nivalis. Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) contain an alkaloid, galanthamine, that has been approved for use in the management of Alzheimer’s disease in a number of countries.
Geography and distribution
Galanthus woronowii occurs from northeastern Turkey to the western and central Caucasus (Georgia and Russia). It is primarily found around the eastern Black Sea coast in the ancient provinces of Colchis and Lazistan (the Euxine Province).
It occurs at 70–1,400 metres above sea level, in stony and rocky spots (on calcareous rocks, in gorges, on stony slopes and on scree), on river banks, in scrub and at forest margins, and sometimes as an epiphyte or on fallen tree trunks, rooting in moss.
Overview: A bulbous herbaceous plant with broad, green (usually light green), shiny leaves and supervolute vernation (one emerging leaf is tightly clasped around the other). The bulb is spherical to egg-shaped and 2–2.5 cm × 1.5–1.7 cm.
Leaves: The leaves are 8–20 cm × 1.1–2 cm at the time of flowering, but can grow to 13–25 cm × 1.3 cm × 1.5–2.1 cm after flowering. The upper leaf surface is often marked with two to four fine, longitudinal furrows.
Flowers: Flowering takes place during the spring (January to April). The delicate white flowers hang down from the top of a green scape (stalk) 4–19 cm in length. The flowers are of a typical snowdrop shape, but with green marks covering the lower third or less of the inner petals.
Fruits: The fruit is a spherical capsule, 1–1.5 cm in diameter, and the brown seeds are about 0.5 cm long.
Threats and conservation
All snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) are included in the CITES Appendix II, which lists plants that are not currently under threat of extinction, but which should have their trade monitored and regulated to ensure wild populations are not endangered. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) is an international agreement between governments across the world, and aims to ensure that the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Under this convention, export quotas are set to limit the numbers of plants and bulbs leaving a country and help prevent over-harvesting.
Kew has been working with Microsoft Ecology, Tbilisi Botanical Garden and Institute of Botany, and CITES Authorities of Georgia to survey populations of snowdrops. The aims of the project were to survey cultivated and wild populations of snowdrops (in particular G. woronowii), model potentially sustainable levels of harvest, recommend annual quota levels, and develop management and monitoring systems to allow long-term sustainable trade.
Richard Wilford, Collections Manager of the Hardy Display section at Kew, and Matthew Smith from Microsoft Ecology, joined the Georgian authorities in 2009 to study cultivation sites and the methods employed in growing G. woronowii. To date over 55 sites have been visited and extensive wild populations and cultivation sites have been sampled and mapped. A draft report was submitted to CITES in January 2010
Every year Georgia harvests 15 million G. woronowii bulbs, which are mostly exported to western Europe for the horticultural trade. Galanthus woronowii is an attractive early-flowering ornamental, which can provide good ground-cover. The fresh green leaves provide a pleasing background for the pure white flowers. This species is attractive when grown alongside the more commonly cultivated narrow-leaved snowdrop.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 8.66 g
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One
Thought to have been cultivated in gardens for more than a century, G. woronowii has been frequently mis-named as G. latifolius, G. ikariae subsp. latifolius or G. ikariae. When provided with the correct conditions it can be an attractive and useful garden plant. It requires moist, but not waterlogged, humus-rich soil, and some shade during the summer.
Snowdrops at Kew
Galanthus woronowii can be seen growing in the Rock Garden, where it flowers from late January to the end of February. It is also grown in the behind-the-scenes Alpine Yard at Kew, and at Wakehurst.
Both dried and spirit-preserved specimens of G. woronowii are held in the Herbarium, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew. Details, including images, of some of these specimens can be seen in the online Herbarium Catalogue, and the specimens themselves are made available to researchers by appointment.
Richard Wilford, manager of the Hardy collections at Kew (which includes the Rock Garden) recently travelled to Georgia to help with surveys of the populations of this species in the wild, and on farms, in order to give advice on the official trade of this beautiful, delicate-looking bulbous plant. Richard recounted his travels in the winter 2009/10 issue of Kew magazine.
Bishop, M., Davis, A.P & Grimshaw, J. (2006). Snowdrops: A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus. Griffin Press, Cheltenham.
Davis, A.P. (1999). The Genus Galanthus. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in association with Timber Press, Oregon.
Heinrich, M. & Teoh, H. L. (2004). Galanthamine from snowdrop – the development of a modern drug against Alzheimer’s disease from local Caucasian knowledge. J. Ethnopharmacol. 92: 147-162.
Kew Science Editor: Aaron Davis
Kew contributors: Richard Wilford
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
Kew would like to thank the following contributors: Matthew Smith (Microsoft Ecology)
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