snowflake



snowflake defined in 1913 year

snowflake - Snowflake (Leucojum æstivum);
snowflake - The Snowflake, like the snowdrop, can only on sufferance claim to be a "wild flower" of Great Britain. It has crept into our flora, by stealth and I under protest, as it were, and retains its place because it is more difficult to say it should not be there than to say it may possibly have a right to be included. Still the Gardener's Magazine of 1836 reports, on the authority of Dr. Woodward, a surgeon and a "good botanist," that the Spring Snowflake was growing wild in immense quantities at Catholic Chapel, Hethe, Oxfordshire, and that, moreover, records were to hand showing that it had been established there for, at any rate then, over a century. But nowadays this species is only found wild in Dorsetshire. The Summer Snowflake of our picture, the only other British species, has often been reported as wild by the Thames and in other parts of south-eastern England, but the fact remains that, strictly speaking, the Snowflake is not a true native, but belongs to Italy in particular and southern and central Europe in general. Perhaps, again, like its relative the snowdrop, it was brought and planted here by the monks, nuns and other religious who had made the pilgrimage to Rome'; and perhaps, too, from its great resemblance to its relative, it may even have at times shared in the odour of sanctity enveloping that plant.

And that reminds us that the name Snowflake is a modern one, invented for the plant by the botanist, William Curtis, at the end of the eighteenth century to distinguish it from the snowdrop. The old name for both snowdrop and Snowflake was Violet. Gerard calls the snowdrop "the Timely flouring Violet," and the Snowflake "The many floured great bulbous Violet," though in the 1623 edition of his work it is stated: "Some also call them Snowdrop." Later writers, hampered by such a terrible length of name, referred to it as the Summer Snowdrop, until Curtis happily both shortened and distinguished it by calling it the Snowflake.

Though the snowdrop and the Snowflake belong to the same family, the Amaryllideæ, they are placed in different genera, yet the difference between them sounds very small. In the snowdrop the three outer petals are always longer than the three inner petals, while the anthers of the stamens are pointed and open only at the tip to let out their pollen (we remember the flower is inverted), while in the Snowflake the petals are all about the same length and the anthers open by long slits. But in reality there is no difficulty in distinguishing between the plants at sight. The Snowflake is a much larger edition of the snowdrop, with much longer leaves - indeed, they may be a foot long - narrow, plain-edged and "keeled" at the back, much resembling the leaves of a daffodil, and appearing very early indeed in the spring. The flowers, too, are borne, several together, from two to six in a cluster, on very long, bare stalks; in the snowdrop there is a solitary one from each bulb. At first the flower-bud is erect, but as it opens it droops over - a white bell with green markings. Each of the six petals is quite distinct, three in an outer ring, three in an inner. Each has a thick green mark at the tip, in addition to long, colourless streaks which all converge to the base of the flower. Six stamens hang inside the bell, and when the flower opens they spread so far away from the stigma that no self-fertilisation is possible. On top of the bell, above the white petals, is the very dark green ovary. (Before the flower drooped over, this was, of course, below the petals.) Inside the bell the surface of the ovary shows as a cushion of glistening tissue, but no free honey can be detected coming from it. But the most remarkable feature of the flower is the style, or ovary column, for the middle part of this swells out, narrowing again at the tip, and this swollen part, if not actually a nectar-secreting gland, as Sprengel thought, is undoubtedly spongy and contains sweet juices. To find the style functioning in this way is, indeed, a rare event, and at once gives a note of distinction to the flower.

The flower's chief visitors are honey bees and butterflies - it blooms much later than the snowdrop, not, in fact, until warmer May days - and these at once make for the style, hanging like a clapper in the middle of the bell. Its tip, the stigma, projects beyond the flower and touches them first, and thus is pollinated if any pollen from another Snowflake flower has been brought with them. Clinging to the style the insects rummage for honey, and finding none free in the flower they probably probe into the spongy, sweet-sapped parts and there extract the sugary juice as substitute. Meanwhile they are sprinkled with pollen, for this is lying loose in the opened anthers and only needs a slight jar to fall out through the pores at their tips. The flowers last a week or two, and then as they wither their stalks bend over and lie along the ground, the ovaries swell, and the fruits form as green capsules, which eventually open by three valves to allow the black, glossy seeds to escape.

The Snowflake is a bulb plant - that is, it springs from a bulb - in this case about the size of a chestnut. The bulb consists of a central axis - the stem - completely and thickly enclosed within fleshy, overlapping leaves. In these leaves the plant stores rich reserves of foodstuff, and this enables it to throw up its fine, long leaves even before winter is over. Every year a bulb buds off tiny bulbs from its side, and these grow to the size of their parent and start a new plant, and in this way the Snowflake propagates itself with greater ease and certainty than by its seeds. Before summer is far through the leaves have all fallen to the ground, and soon they die off and no hint of the Snowflake remains above ground. Only the bulbs and their offspring wait below for the autumn to pass, and for their call to awake as the days first begin to lengthen. The name Leucojum, or Leucoium as it used to be written, is derived from the Greek word leukos, meaning "white," from the colour of the corolla. It gives us another instance of curious transposition of flower names, for "moderne" writers of James I.'s day denoted wallflower and stock gilliflower by this title. Tradition and romance do not seem to touch the Snowflake, while as to its "vertues" in the sense of the old herbalists, we can only repeat with an Elizabethan writer that "touching the faculties of these bulbous Violets we have nothing to say, seeing that nothing is set downe hereof by the antient Writers, nor anything observed by the moderne, onely they are maintained and cherished in gardens for the beautie and rarenesse of the floures and sweetnesse of their smell."

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