Known as both the Flower of Hope and Death’s Flower, the dainty snowdrop sure is a nebulous so-and-so, but this polar duality is part of their appeal. Capitalizing on both inviting warmth and grim curiosity, they fascinate us, drawing us in, begging to be studied and poeticized.
It’s small wonder why they’ve come to represent such a wide variety of things. From doom and gloom to brightness and levity, there are few plants with the sheer symbolic range of the snowdrop.
Diminutive though they may be, these wintry little plants can teach us many things, so let’s give in to this gleeful and grim flower’s gambit, and take a closer look, shall we?
What Does The Snowdrop Flower Mean?
Despite their decidedly disconsolate droop, the most prominent meaning assigned to the snowdrop is that of hope. There is something utterly scintillating about catching your first glimpse of a flower in three icy months, and, if it’s native to your homeland, that flower is almost certain to be the snowdrop.
It may still be cold when they pop suddenly from the earth, but they signify the waning of winter and the clearing of the cold for spring’s arrival. The sight of one won’t stop your teeth chattering, but it will warm your soul a great deal in anticipation of what’s to come.
However, as you’ve gathered from my introduction, the snowdrop isn’t an optimistic sign through and through, so let’s inch a little closer and see if we can’t catch a glimpse of its dark side.
Etymological Meaning Of The Snowdrop Flower
As you might have guessed, snowdrop isn’t the official name of this lovely plant. If you want to impress the science buff in your life, you’ll nonchalantly refer to them as Galanthus, which is taken from the Greek gala, meaning “milk”, and anthos, meaning “flower”.
Yep, that’s right folks, the thing you’ve been calling a snowdrop all these years is actually called a milk flower; however, this plant’s epithet, Nivalis, is Latin, meaning “of the snow”, so you haven’t been too far off the mark.
The name snowdrop is thought to be derived from the German word schneetropfen, which was a term used to describe a type of tear-shaped pearl earrings that were à la mode in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Symbolism Of The Snowdrop Flower
Okay, now’s the time to dive into the symbolic depths of the snowdrop. We’ll see some dark things, we’ll see some pleasant things, but in the end, isn’t that what life’s about?
As per our earlier discussion, above all else, the snowdrop signifies hope, the hope of a new day, a grand year, and, with spring right around the corner, hope for life in general!
In many ways, the snowdrop communicates a joy far beyond its scale, as it connotes the coming of all the other flowers of spring and summer. Even though they’re ghost-white, when you see these resolute plants, the mind reels with the color of a thousand future petals.
- Spring, Rebirth, And Strength
In a more literal sense, the snowdrop is a totem of spring. They often start sprouting in mid to late January, when the icy claws of winter still have a hold on the world, but they signal to us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Soon mother nature will awaken from her dormancy, and the Earth will be teeming with new life and color; however, the snowdrop doesn’t only inspire by urging us to look into the warmth of the future, but by turning back to see the distance we’ve traveled through the cold.
Think about the last long walk or hike you went on. It feels great to arrive at your destination, but half of the pleasure is turning around once you’ve got there and witnessing how far you’ve come — that is proof of your strength.
The snowdrop’s prompt follows the same principles, but on a seasonal scale. This reflection also illuminates how we’ve changed in the face of the challenges we’ve overcome.
That breaking of the first snowdrop through the ice-hard earth signifies that, along with the natural world, we are to be reborn. In this new life, we will be wiser and more resilient beings than ever before.
- Death And Misfortune
Now we arrive at the other end of the snowdrops symbolic spectrum… death and despair. As a predominantly white flower, it has a coldness to it, compounded by the physical chill in the air when they sprout.
They also feature drooped blooms that look like the bowed heads of grievers looking on and praying as loved ones are lowered into their graves.
In Victorian England, this shiver-inducing image brought only thoughts of death, especially in the cities, as, for many, the only natural, earthy area they’d encounter would be graveyards, where snowdrops sprouted prolifically in the late winter and early spring.
This earned snowdrops the title of Death’s Flower, and corpse in a shroud. So grim an omen they were thought to be, people wouldn’t dare touch them, as the sight of them alone was enough to impart a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.
Yep, it was considered bad luck to see them alright, but to pick them or bring them into the home was even worse, often convincing people death was on the horizon.
However, it wasn’t just the macabre imagery of the snowdrop that inspired such distaste, but certain botanical aspects as well. The bulbs of these flowers are poisonous, but look an awful lot like certain edible veggies such as onions and garlic.
There are tales of them being accidentally harvested and used for cooking, leading to entire households falling ill.
- Innocence And Purity
As a white flower with a dainty structure, the snowdrop has long been associated with notions of purity and innocence, especially as it shares ties with spring, when all new life, free from misdeed, is born.
Perhaps due to their grieving profile and the fact they, in the past, signified death, snowdrops are also said to symbolize sympathy.
Snowdrop Flower Color Meanings
Snowdrops are almost always white, which in the language of flowers, typically signifies purity, fertility, and innocence, all three of which tie into the snowdrop’s association with springtime.
They’re something of a rarity, but slightly yellow-tinted snowdrops do exist, imparting an altogether warmer vibe. Yellow flowers typically symbolize happiness, warmth, hope, friendship, and trust.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Snowdrop Flower
The downturned flower of the snowdrop reminds us that though we may go through some tough times, there is always beauty in life and that there is a divine spark in us all.
We can also learn a lot from the closing of snowdrop petals to the cold. Never share your soul with those who don’t appreciate you. It’s okay to be insular, and protect yourself from the cold, because the warmth is coming, and you can bloom all over again.
The combination of toxicity and healing properties of this plant reflects the good and the bad in the world, and indeed in all of us, and that our lives are a tension between these two poles.
Special Occasions For Snowdrop Flowers
Along with daffodils, snowdrops are considered the official flower of January birthdays, making them an interesting gift for the Capricorn/Aquarius green thumbs in your life.
The only problem is that snowdrops don’t enjoy the warmth of life indoors, so they need to be kept in a cool environment, on a north-facing windowsill, where they won’t get too much direct sunlight.
Snowdrop Flower Cultural Significance
A lot of pejorative aspects of the snowdrop’s cultural significance pertain to the dreary Victorian views we discussed earlier, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg with these plants.
A charming German folk tale tells us that when life was new, all the flowers in existence were envied greatly by the elements for their colors, and snow, in particular, wished to be close to them.
Finding snow to be too cold and bitter, the flowers disappeared when it tried to share in their color or even get close to them, but good old snowdrops felt sorry for snow and decided to stand their ground and share their color with the frigid element.
From that day forward, snow, which had been colorless, was white forevermore, and in payment for the snowdrop’s generosity, snow made these kind-hearted plants impervious to the cold, so they could co-exist together.
In Christianity, the snowdrop is introduced to Adam and Eve by a sympathetic angel after they’re expelled from the Garden of Eden for partaking of the forbidden fruit.
As the cruel new world around them, and no way to get back into Eden, Adam and Eve felt completely hopeless. Through the snowflakes falling, the angel appears to inform them of their fate. He says that they have lost their place in Eden and must now inhabit the cold, harsh world ahead.
Frightened by both the presence of the angel, his words, and the expanse before them, Adam and Eve set off tearfully, working against the elements,
Seeing their hurt, the angel picks up some snowflakes, breathes on them, and transforms them into perfect little pearly snowdrop flowers. The angel then passes them to Adam and Eve as a sign of hope for them and the world outside of Eden.
Although most of the dark associations with this flower stem from the Victorian era, the general link to death was already well established by Greek myth.
It is told that the goddess, Persephone, who was kidnapped by Hades to be his queen and rule by his side in the underworld, would hold snowdrops as she traveled back to the living world in spring, as per the agreement between Demeter and Hades.
It’s important to note that the links to snowdrops have many threads in this myth. Yes, the underworld is an awful presence in the story, but the snowdrops appear when Persephone is relieved of her grim duties and permitted to leave Hades’ side, putting a positive spin on the plant.
The connection to spring is reinforced, too, as this is the time of year that Persephone returns from the underworld.
In more recent history, the snowdrop was adopted as a symbol of hope and sorrow in Scotland after the Dunblane massacre.
Snowdrop Flower Facts
- Contrary to popular belief, snowdrop flowers are named after a type of earring rather than snow; however, the earrings themselves were named for the snow, so there’s still a connection between these lovely flowers and everyone’s favorite fluffy white stuff.
- You may think that a snowdrop’s a snowdrop, and that’s that, but there are actually 20 known species of snowdrop native to Europe and certain locations in the Middle East.
- Snowdrops are commonly the first flowers to bloom in a new year, sometimes emerging in January, way before the onset of spring.
- Snowdrops are lucky enough to contain a strong natural anti-freeze, which is why they are capable of thriving in such frigid temperatures.
- Snowdrops are hardwired to open their petals and reveal their nectar when the temperature reaches 10 𝆩C (40 𝆩F), which is precisely the temperature at which bees wake from hibernation — magical!
Furthermore, if the temperature drops below 10 𝆩C, the petals of snowdrop flowers close up shop, protecting their nectar and pollen until the bees come back with the warmer weather.
- Despite the fact, you can take a late winter walk and catch thousands of these white flowers growing in the wild, they’re actually considered an endangered plant species.
- It is theorized that the magical herb referred to as moly in Homer’s Odyssey is actually a snowdrop.
Snowdrop Flower Uses
- Snowdrops contain Galantamine, which can be used to treat nervous system trauma and Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Snowdrop Flower Tattoo?
Snowdrop tattoos can be exceedingly striking and usually symbolize hope, rebirth, the overcoming of obstacles, or a willingness to adapt, grow, and become a better person.
What a ride, ay? The snowdrop is one nuanced flower alright, symbolic of all kinds of seemingly contradictory notions. But, when you look a little closer, you start to notice that all the meanings burdening this sweet little flower are actually quite closely related — let’s hear it for the snowdrop!
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