All snowdrops are equal but some are more equal than others. In my opinion – on Wednesdays and Fridays – the most handsome of all snowdrop species, Galanthus gracilis probably occurs only in western Turkey. It is closely related to G. elwesii and is frequently confused with that species, with which its range overlaps. The features used to distinguish the two (principally vernation, leaf twisting and inner segment shape) are variable and often ambiguous, especially in herbarium specimens. Populations of snowdrops that look very much like G. gracilis also occur in northern Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, but these appear to constitute a separate lineage and it is likely they will soon be referred to G. graecus, an old name resurrected to reflect our steadily improving grasp of the evolutionary history of the Galanthus genus.

I have seen G. gracilis in a couple of places, most recently paying a flying visit to a population near Izmir (formerly Smyrna). I saw this population last year, when it was in full, spectacular flower, in mid March but in this warm, early spring it had almost finished flowering, when I visited on 9 March. For this reason and because I was able to spend very little time there, the accompanying photographs do not represent the full range of variability within the large population.

Galanthus gracilis habitat: limestone rubble beneath north-facing cliffs, often under shrubs and small trees. Near Izmir, western Turkey, 9/3/16.
Galanthus gracilis habitat: limestone rubble beneath north-facing cliffs, often under shrubs and small trees. Near Izmir, western Turkey, 9/3/16.

The population grows in limestone rubble at the base of north-facing cliffs. Most of the plants are further shaded by low, scrubby trees and bushes.

Galanthus gracilis habitat. Scree below shady, north-facing, limestone cliffs. Near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.
Galanthus gracilis habitat. Scree below shady, north-facing, limestone cliffs. Near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.

Other bulbous plants that occur in the same habitat and which were flowering at the same time include Crocus chrysanthus and Scilla bifolia.

Scilla bifolia and Crocus chrysanthus. Near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.
Scilla bifolia and Crocus chrysanthus. Near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.

Most plants occur as single individuals or small clumps. The impression created is of strong, vigorous plants, many of which produce two scapes per bulb.

Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Most plants were growing singly, or in small clumps. Often with twin scapes.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Most plants were growing singly, or in small clumps. Often with twin scapes.

The leaves are rather narrow, linear, glaucous, conspicuously twisted and the vernation is unambiguously applanate.

Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Unmistakable, twisted, linear, glaucous leaves.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Unmistakable, twisted, linear, glaucous leaves.

To my eyes the flowers are exceptionally attractive. They are large (outer segments between 35mm and 40mm are common), elegant, shapely and have two, striking, clearly-defined, bottle green markings on the inner segments.

Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.

The claws of the outer segments are long and expand abruptly into the deeply concave, spoon-shaped ‘blade’ of the segments. The outer segments are frequently heavily textured with longitudinal grooves.

Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.

The inner segments have conspicuously flared apical margins. This feature is sometimes suggested as a way of distinguishing G. gracilis from G. elwesii, which is said not to have these flared margins. In my rather limited experience of the latter species in the wild, this is generally but not infallibly a reliable way of separating the two.

Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Note flared apices of inner segments.

Each inner segment has two green markings , one at the base and one at the apex. As in almost every wild snowdrop population, the shape, extent and colour of these markings is highly variable. As noted above, I didn’t have time to explore more than a tiny fraction of the population and most plants had, in any case, already finished flowering, so I don’t doubt that a longer, better-timed visit would reveal much more variation.

Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Variation in flower shape and inner segment markings.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Variation in flower shape and inner segment markings.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Variation in flower shape and inner segment markings.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Variation in flower shape and inner segment markings.

 

Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Variation in flower shape and inner segment markings.
Galanthus gracilis, near Izmir, Turkey, 9/3/16. Variation in flower shape and inner segment markings.

 

5 thoughts

  1. I am going with every day of the week on G. gracilis…what perfection of form. Tom, these images are inspiring and you have embarked on an expedition of a lifetime…congratulations.

    1. Thanks Rick and very pleased to hear that you are enjoying the blog. I’m planning to make it into the trip of a lifetime, not in the sense that it’s better than all the others, but in the sense that it ends at the same time I do…

  2. Hi Tom,

    Most interesting. Where would you (expect to) place the snowdrops growing on say Mt Ambelos on Samos? Or Mt Pelineo on Chios? Would be interested in your thoughts.

    Cheers, Marcus

    1. Hi Marcus, I’ve never been to Chios, Samos or Lesbos and have not been able to find any decent pictures of the snowdrops growing there. On the mountains around Izmir and elsewhere in western Turkey the snowdrops that I have seen are G. gracilis and, based on proximity, I’d expect the same on the islands. Nothing would surprise me, however, though if the plants turn out to be morphologically like elwesii, I think that the elwesii/gacilis distinction will have to be abandoned. Best, Tom

      1. I seem to remember that Davis may have had similar difficulties with gracilis/elwesii on Samos at least. I think he refers to these populations as hybrids between the two.
        I have never seem them in flower so can’t help but there are a couple of guys who have photographic material.

        Cheers, Marcus

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