Leucojum – Snowflake Or Loddon Lily

Its name, derived from the Greek means ‘white violet’, though the flower more closely resembles a snowdrop. We know it as the Snowflake and it is a truly delightful plant. It is rather more streamlined than the snowdrop whilst its petals are more evenly spaced, forming a bell of almost perfect symmetry. Of the three species I know, one blooms during October, another in February, whilst the summer snowflake is at its glorious best during May.

The summer snowflake is also known as the Loddon Lily, for it was on the banks of the little Berkshire river, the Loddon, that William Curtis discovered it growing wild towards the end of the nineteenthLeucojum aestivum century. Those who know Ireland will have picked the same lovely flower growing alongside the River Shannon almost the whole length of the river. It is therefore an ideal late spring plant for planting along the banks of a stream or pool. Beside water, the snow-white blooms are even more enchanting.

All three species should be planted for they are quite inexpensive and easily obtained, yet they are so little grown. If they have a fault it is the length of time they take to come into bloom, often two years after planting and they do not like any disturbance when once established. Increasing relatively slowly both from self-sown seed and bulblets there is no need to divide the clumps after flowering so frequently as with snowdrops. The Leucojums favour a soil that is moist yet well drained, and one containing liberal quantities of leaf mould. Like snowdrops they also appreciate a peat mulch after flowering. They make ideal pot plants, especially those that bloom in February. They should be potted into bowls or 6o-si2e pots during late August and stood in cold frames or under a wall, well covered with ashes or sand until early December when they should be taken to the cold-house or indoors to a cool room. They should be watered sparingly for they enjoy soil conditions which err on the side of dryness. Early in January they will come into bloom and remain fresh and slightly fragrant for a month at least.

PLANTING

In the open ground the spring and early summer species should be planted during early September so that they will have settled down before the winter weather. Plant only 2-in, deep, and I have found that if a little peat and coarse sand is sprinkled over the bulbs before the soil is put around them this helps to get them away to a good start in life.

The autumn-flowering species should be planted in April or early May so that they too may have ample time to form their roots before coming into bloom early in autumn.

SPECIES

  • Leucojum aestivum. This is the summer Snowflake we so often read about but so rarely find growing. The best form is named `Gravetye’ which produces small drooping bell-shaped flowers on stems up to 18 in. in length. Grown in a sheltered position this variety could well become a popular cut flower for the difficult May period. Plant it near a clump of Solomon’s Seal and the green and white effect will be enchanting. As already mentioned it will grow to perfection on the banks of a stream.
  • L. autumnale. As its name implies – October flowering when it produces its grass-like foliage and snowbells tinged with pink. This species should be given a more shaded position than the spring-flowering leucojums. Plant with Gentian sino-ornata, the brilliant blue trumpets enhancing the white and pink colouring of the Leucojum.
  • L. vernum. Similar in style to autumnale, but here the rounded petals are tipped with vivid green which makes them most attractive as pot plants or on the rockery or made up into small bunches for shop sale. They flower throughout February and into March and carry an attractive perfume.

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