Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia


Galanthus elwesii 

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah - July

Common name greater snowdrop, Elwes’s snowdrop (English), kardelen, sümbül, nergis (Turkish)
Scientific name Galanthus elwesii
Family  Amaryllidaceae

Genus: Galanthus - Greek: gála ‘milk’, ánthos ‘flower’.
Species: elwesii - after the plant collector, sportsman and traveler Henry John Elwes (1846-1922). The first person to receive the Victoria Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Distribution Most abundant in the southern, limestone Taurus Mountains of Turkey.
Bulgaria, north-eastern Greece, the eastern Aegean Islands, southern Ukraine and Turkey.
Native habitat Open rocky areas or phrygana (low, soft-leaved shrubland on limestone around the Mediterranean Basin) and pine and juniper forests in leafmould. Sub-alpine pastures between 800 and 1000 m altitude (sometimes to 1600 m). Snow-covered in winter and cool in summer.
Description Flowers larger and greyish leaves wider than the most commonly grown Galanthus nivalis. The whole plant of G. elwesii reaches about 10 cm in height and dies back to bulbs in late spring.
Flowering/fruiting Flowering - June, July at Tomah (late winter in England).


Wedding Tree Terrace bed GD151 (western end).


Leucojum species, are often referred to as snowdrops, leading to confusion. There is a drift of Leucojum aestivum under the Brunet oaks, near the weather station, just to the west of our featured plant.

Galanthus are early flowering bulbs belonging to a taxonomically difficult genus of about 20 species, with many cultivars. Hybridisation is common in the wild and in cultivation, so, propagation by division of clumps is recommended.

In the wild the slightly fragrant flowers provide a nectar source for invertebrates and the seeds are a food source for ants. Further ecological studies are proposed.

John Grimshaw, a gardening botanist and author, is Gardens Manager at Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire. There he is responsible for maintaining and developing the historic Elwes family garden, especially the snowdrop collection. In 2002 he co-authored, ‘Snowdrops: a monograph of cultivated Galanthus’. John is a world-renown alpine plant expert and will be in Australia later this year.

First imported to England from Turkey in 1874 by H.J. Elwes. Demand for this taxon and other Galanthus, harvested from the wild, increased dramatically until 1990.

RHS - AGM (Royal Horticultural Society - Award of Garden Merit) 1993.

Fertile, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Not fussy as to soil pH. The soil must not dry out in summer.

Galantamine, extracted from Galanthus species, is showing promising early results in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease and several other medical conditions.

It may have been the ‘moly’ plant given by Hermes to Odysseus in Homer’s ‘Odyssey‘ and used as an antidote for memory loss. Do not eat this plant.

In 1990 all Galanthus species were placed on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II to limit harvest from the wild. G. elwesii trade increased from the 1960s to reach 40 million bulbs in the mid 1980s. Management plans have been devised and implemented by Turkish authorities.