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Early Blooming Bulbs That Signal Spring Is Here!

Morris Arboretum

by Kate Deregibus, Morris Arboretum Horticulture Section Leader - 3/8/2010

winter blooming bulbs, galanthus nivalis


The first day of spring may be March 21st, but don’t tell the snowdrops that push through the frozen ground after a few warm days in January. In this corner of Pennsylvania there are several hardy bulbs which frequently bloom well before the dates listed in the flower bulb catalogs. The snowdrops are often the earliest, and have been seen flowering as early as mid-December at the Morris Arboretum. Snowdrops or Galanthus, from the Greek gala (“snow”) and anthos (“flower”), have pendulous, creamy-white petals, usually marked with green. There are many forms and hybrids around but the earliest and most reliable is undoubtedly Galanthus nivalis which is native throughout much of Europe and naturalizes happily over here.


Winter aconite or Eranthis commonly bloom simultaneously with the snowdrops, almost always by mid-February. The bright yellow, buttercup flowers of winter aconite appear before delicate, palmately lobed leaves which form little collars or ruffs under the blooms. In the right conditions, usually left undisturbed under deciduous trees, aconite will seed in to form large drifts over time.


The species crocuses are also frequently in bloom on the grounds at the Arboretum in February. The deep lavender flowers of Crocus tommasinianus, affectionately known as “tommies”, are among the first to appear. Somewhat more diminutive and much earlier than the larger-flowered Dutch crocuses, tommies are very successful growing and spreading in areas of lawn grass, this is due to their short stature and because their leaves are held quite flat and thus are able to avoid the mower blades.


Appearing slightly later in the winter are the star-shaped, blue and white flowers of Chinodoxa. The common name of this Turkish import is Glory of the Snow, again from the Greek chion (“snow”) and doxa (“glory”).  Chinodoxa once established, can produce up to 10 flowers on a single stem and will also seed in or naturalize freely in this region. Glory of the Snow can be seen blooming along the path through the Widener Woods, where you may find the pink and pure white forms as well as the lovely deep-blue ones.

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