Saturday 22 January 2011

First lessons from the 'New Testament'

Galanthus elwesii, unnamed poculiform clone
An important event in the history of Galanthophilia occurred this week: the arrival in my inbox of Matt Bishop's first draft of the chapter on Galanthus elwesii cultivars for Snowdrops 2. At this stage, with publication still some years away, the text is inevitably incomplete and unpolished, but it is still exciting, for me at least, to see actual text and descriptions coming together.

A "Trym-like" G. elwesii
- sadly this discovery by Carolyn Elwes
has not survived.
Snowdrops 2 charts the development of the diversity of snowdrop cultivars since our book Snowdrops - widely known as 'the bible' in the community - was completed just about ten years ago. Huge numbers of new cultivars have been named, many unnecesarily, and part of the challenge we face with Snowdrops 2 - dubbed the 'new testament' by some wag  - is how to deal with all the names. In this we are helped by the division system instituted in Snowdrops, in which all cultivars sharing a certain set of easily recognized characters are placed together, thus avoiding the need for a lot of repetition explaining basic characters in the text and enabling simple keying-out to division level. The division system has proven to be flexible enough to absorb all new combinations of characters easily, which is a great relief. In Snowdrops, cultivars of G. elwesii were placed in four primary divisions, with 13 subdivisions. In the current draft this has expanded to six divisions, with 26 subdivisions, demonstrating the range of novelties in flower formation and colour combinations now known. Notable new subdivisions in 'Division O, Other conspicuous characters'  are  'O5. Outer segments shaped and marked like inner segments' - in other words, "Trym-like", a completely new development in G. elwesii, but now with three known extant cultivars, and 'O6. Outer or inner segments (or both) with orange suffusion.' This is a new subdivision, but will include the original 'orange snowdrop' 'Joy Cozens' and (at present) four other clones, including 'Anglesey Orange Tip', for which the Snowdrops 2 entry currently reads: "A fine display of potted snowdrops in the foyer of the new entrance building to Anglesey Abbey Garden in 2010 included what was the first pubic view of 'Anglesey Orange Tip'..." Typos can happen to anyone!

G. elwesii 'Pat Mason'
In Snowdrops, only two poculiform clones of G. elwesii could be described, but they will be joined by at least four more in Snowdrops 2, all apparently showing more vigour than 'The Bride'. Another class in which there have been great strides are green-tipped G. elwesii, both in single-marked clones (var. monostictus) and those with more extensive marking (var. elwesii). Two notable green-tipped var. elwesii are shown here: 'Pat Mason', of which Matt says: 'This clone is straight-forward to tell apart from other clones in the division for a number of reasons. The foliage alone is distinctive, with strongly incurved margins that give stiffness to their splayed position. With a large X marking on the inner segments, the flowers are proportionately on the large side with broad outer segments, the discreet marking comprising green lines which merge to a sharp point towards the apex.' Of 'Beany' he writes "this is undoubtedly one of the very best green-tipped G. elwesii..."

Galathus elwesii 'Beany'
Work on Snowdrops 2 continues apace and will take several more years to complete, but to ensure that it is as comprehensive as possible we need anyone with new, name-worthy snowdrops to let us know about them, preferably with a good picture, as soon as possible, so that we can gather in the details. The important point here is 'name-worthy' - there are far too many indistinct selections around already. Our suggestions made in the AGS Bulletin in 1998 (Some Superior Snowdrops, M. Bishop, A. Davis, J.Grimshaw), still hold good: 'Proportion and quality of flower, as well as vigour, but not mere size, are desirable characteristics to consider when evaluating a potential snowdrop cultivar. Even more important is the need to compare it diligently with existing cultivars, ascertaining that it is distinct from, at least equals, and preferably excels, the qualities of previously named clones. Only then may the application of a name be desirable.'

A green-tipped G. elwesii of no great merit and indistinguishable
from many others: this one is best left unnamed.


  1. John, Thank you for answering my question about the next edition of your book. I am sure I wasn't the only one bothering you. If you have time, visit my blog and read my current snowdrop post, which is really a tribute to your wonderful book. I think I said "rumor had it that a new edition was in the works" and now it's more than rumor. Carolyn

  2. John,
    I was very pleased to see your comment re. G. Joy Cozens, 'the original orange snowdrop'.
    Would you like a picture of it, in bud?


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