SNOWDROPS (Galanthus nivalis), seem to be in flower everywhere in late January. It might not be the harbinger of spring, but it does mean we are now into the second half of winter.

Despite its widespread distribution, friends are often surprised when I tell them it is not native to the UK. No one is quite sure how it arrived on these shores. The possibilities include both the aristocracy, planting large swathes on their country estates or the church, of which the latter seems most likely. The reason I mention the role of the church is due to Candlemas falling on 2nd February, 40 days after Christmas, and the end of Christmastide. Also known as the Feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary. Both occasions would require the church to be decorated with flowers and what better flower to choose than the snowdrop flowering right on cue at this time of year.

But for me, it is a minor miracle that this most delicate and beautiful of plants can flower at all in the depths of winter.

It is a case of the ‘Five P’s’ – Perfect Plans Prevent Poor Performance. Preparation starts the previous spring as soon as the plant has stopped flowering. Sugars produced by photosynthesis in the leaves are sent down to the bulb and stored as starch in the scale leaves. If you imagine an onion, the scale leaves are the layers you separate before cooking.

By mid-summer, the flower and leaf buds have already formed in the central part of the bulb. Combined with the energy from the stored starch, it is just the head start the plant needs when many other plants are still lying dormant.

The bulb has one more trick up its sleeve. During winter due to the repeated freezing and thawing of the ground, stones are gradually pushed towards the surface. To prevent this happening to the bulb, the Snowdrop has thick contractile roots, that keep it firmly anchored in place.

Then in mid-winter, to allow the leaf shoots to pierce the often-frozen surface, the leaf tips have developed a toughed hard tip, surrounded by a protective sheath. Eventually the flower makes an appearance, protected initially by a green spathe, which is eventually seen above the opened flower.

Snowdrops might have the look of a delicate but beautiful ballerina, but like ballet dancers, they are made of tough stuff.

Enjoy the wonderful displays of Snowdrops in the coming weeks, it is one of the joys of this time of year.