Galanthomania – A Mystery

The snowdrops are out en masse in the Genus garden. Carpeting banks in the woodland garden they bring a little spot of liveliness into the otherwise bleakness of late winter. Snowdrops are indeed lovely, but why they inspire otherwise well-adjusted people to resort to theft, back-stabbing and humungous expenditure is totally baffling.

A low growing plant with a small flower, the genus has only about twenty species. Native to the southern Mediterranean, Near and Middle East, and known since the Roman Empire, the plants were probably brought into England with soldiers returning from the Crimea in the nineteenth century.

Galanthophiles become Galanthobores who emerge for just one month each year to fuss over the size of the petals, the shape of the petals, whether they look up or down, whether there are green or yellow markings or stripes. Sometimes you need to get down on your hands and knees just to be able to see the differences.

For over a century, this obsession with snowdrops was exclusive to plant connoisseurs but for some reason, in the 1980s galanthomania exploded into our consciousness. Specialist gardens open their doors in late January for four to five weeks and then close to visitors until the following year. Wikipedia lists 24 snowdrop gardens in England alone. Commercial growers chop up rare bulbs into 20 or 30 small chips to sell at huge profits. Bulbs are sold for hundreds of pounds at specialist galanthus sales or on the internet. In 2015, one bulb was sold on ebay for £1390.

And worst of all is the crime. It is not unusual for plants to be stolen, dug up or spirited away when no-one is looking. The most famous theft was of a yellow Galanthus elwesii dug up in 1997 at Colesbourne Park, not far from here in Gloucestershire.
It’s a mystery. Are there tulipophiles, or delphiniumophiles, or even rudbeckiaophiles? We can only assume that the pure white flowers of the snowdrop marking the end of the winter and heralding the beginning of spring are unique in making the gardener’s heart race with excitement and burst with joy at finally getting down to a new gardening season.