Monday, July 6, 2015

Leucojum - White Violets of Spring and Summer

Leucojum aestivum in Peaches Garden

Leucojum species, members of the Amaryllidacea family, are native to Europe, the Middle East, the Caucasus region, but you will find them naturalized almost everywhere. L. vernum is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9. It blooms late winter to early spring. L. aestivum is hardy in climate zones 4 to 9. It blooms late spring to early summer. Of the two, L. vernum is shorter, growing 6 inches to 12 inches height. L. aestivum grows from 12 inches to 18 inches.

Leucojum comes from Greek words "leukos" and "ion" meaning "white" and "violet." The Latin word "aestivum" translates "summer."  "Vernum" means "spring."

"But," you might say, "they're not violets." True, if you're thinking of Viola species or African violets. But, African violets aren't Violas, either.

By now you've learned I like to study names (onomatology), wondering why things are dubbed so.

Apparently, Leucojum was named "white violet" because there was a time when "violet" was applied to many adorable plants and daughters. Peter Lauremberg (26 August 1585–13 May 1639) aka Petru Laurembergius, in Apparatus plantarius: de plantis bulbosis et de plantis tuberosis, opined, "Vox Violæ distinctissimis floribus communis est. Videntur mihi antiqui suaveolentes quosque flores generatim Violas appellasse, cujuscunque etiam forent generis quasi vi oleant."

Not knowing much Latin, I went to Google Translate which rendered: "The voice Violets distinctissimis flowers is common. It seems to me the old sweet-scented flowers men generally Violas appealed, irrespective of the kind that would force oil." There you have it. However, not even that ended my wonderment.

There's also the issue of common names. L. aestivum goes by Summer Snowflake, Dewdrop and Snowdrop. L. vernum is called Spring Snowflake and St. Agnes Flower. Why these?

Galanthus species are also called Snowdrops. Leucojum and Galanthus (meaning "milk flower") bloom near the same time and they do look somewhat similar, therefore that may explain the shared names.

So, when Wordsworth wrote,

"LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
          But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
          Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
          Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
          Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
          The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
          Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
          Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
          Shall soon behold this border thickly set
          With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing               
          On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
          Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
          Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
          And pensive monitor of fleeting years
!" - To A Snowdrop,

there's no telling which he was musing about.


Why St. Agnes Flower? Probably in memory of Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c. 304), a virgin–martyr, patron saint of chastity, virgins (traditionally females, but not necessarily so), holy innocents of both sexes, gardeners (who are always pure in heart), engaged couples (men and women who should be chaste until their weddings), and rape survivors.

Tiffany, in her Family At The Foot Of The Cross blog, wrote, "Some people refer to snowflakes as St. Agnes flowers because she holds a winter feast day." Snowflakes are usually considered to be pure, until they touch the ground. Leucojum seldom bloom as early as the Feast of St. Agnes (21 January), but if you look into an open Leucojum flower and use a little imagination, you'll see the shape of a snowflake.

Voilà! or maybe Violà!

Plant Leucojum bulbs in full sun to partial shade, in slightly moist to well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. Planting hole should be 4 inches deep or 2-1/2 times the height of the bulb. Space the bulbs 4 inches apart.

Leucojum species are good for cutting, bulb gardens, perennial borders, container gardens, rock gardens, naturalizing, theme gardens, shade and woodland gardens.

Return to Leucojum at goGardenNow.com.

1 comment:

Scheherazade said...

Yes! The Snowdrops of my childhood. Dependable. Came back year after year, though clumps needed dividing after a few years. In sandy soil like ours, they, as did the narcissus, etc., needed to be raised higher when replanting. They would sink so low they would lose some of their blooming time. Don't know why these charmed me so. A little girl flower, I suppose. My teachers were the recipients of many a late winter bouquet of jonquils and snowdrops. The catalogs call these "snowflakes" and the other kind (Galanthus) snowdrops, even though the former look more like drops, the latter like flakes. Go figure.