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Teme Valley Wildlife Group

[A monthly report - February 2013]

 

As I write, the first flakes of snow are descending from the heavens on to the garden, just as the first bulbs of the year are poking their heads above ground. And so thoughts, undoubtedly linked, turn to Snow Drops. This tiny iconic flower that reminds us that a new year has come around and that life and all its cycles, are starting all over again. The name Snow Drop is derived from the Latin name for the plant genus; Galanthus, which literally translated means ‘Milk Flower’, and is one of only a few UK winter flowering plants. Its first appearance in literature may well have been as early as the 7th – 8th Century BC, when it appeared in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey. In this, he mentions the use of ‘Moly’ which many modern day scholars now believe to be the Snow Drop. It was used to protect Odysseus from Circe’s magic. Translated, Homer says of Snow Drops, it is “Dangerous for a mortal man to pluck from the soil, but not for the deathless gods”, perhaps a reference that it should be handled with care. For decades, it has been used by eastern European peasants as a remedy for neuro-muscular pains such as neuralgia and indeed, the plant does contain the chemical galantamine, which is the basis of a modern day medicine used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is not known if the Snow Drop is a truly native species of the UK. There is evidence that monks brought the plant into the UK in the 15th Century, to plant up in the monastery gardens, with the first written evidence appearing in Gerard’s Herbal 1597. There is a lot of speculation therefore, as ‘garden’ snow drops are essentially the same plant as ‘wild’ snow drops, that all Snow Drops are in fact, an ‘introduced’ species. And carpets of Snow Drops in woodland are often now thought to signify the presence of past dwellings in the area.

The flower also has a folk law history associated with doom and gloom, of pending danger, or bad omen, probably associated with the fact that they are often seen in churchyards. As such, many people will not bring them inside the house. But dig deep enough and yet more folk law talks about the pure white flower being a source of hope and the harbinger of a fresh new year, having washed away the doldrums of the winter.

There are many sites in the Teme Valley where this plant can be seen, but without doubt, one favourite location to see this beautiful plant in all its glory is Hunthouse Wood. If you get the opportunity to get there, you won’t be disappointed. This pristine piece of woodland is carpeted in white flowers at this time of year and standing on the track way, you will be surrounded by this amazing sight.



Next month

The next indoor wildlife Group meeting is on Thursday 14th February 2013, when we welcome Andrew Mawby, who will be talking about the secretive life of the Dipper, one of our most elusive water birds. As always, the venue is Rochford Village Hall, 7:30pm and just £2 on the door. Everybody welcome.