Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

Februrary 2018




The Joy of Snowdrops


Did you notice the snowdrops opening their small, demure flowers in the churchyard around Christmas Day? Unlike some churchyards, we do not have masses of these lovely blooms, but our discrete patches have increased to form dense clusters and it is our intention to lift some and spread them more widely. Flowering at a time when insects are scarce for pollination, they are mainly increased through bulb division. If there happens to be a crust of snow, the hardened tips are still able to penetrate it.

All over Britain snowdrops will be delighting gardeners throughout January and February, regardless of the weather, and snowdrop experts (galanthophiles, a name created from the Latin name for the genus – Galanthus) will be gathering, often to see what is new in this family of plants. It is all the more surprising because there is, in fact, a rather limited range of forms in this family, since apart from a few varieties with double flowers and some slightly yellowish ones, most are pure white. Perhaps this is the basis of their charm? It is interesting to record that ‘galanthus’ is formed from the combination of Greek and Latin words meaning ‘milk white flower resembling snow’!

The snowdrop flower has enjoyed a rich and varied history that includes several legends about how the flower came to be. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve was about to give up hope that winter would ever end, when an angel transformed some of the snowflakes into snowdrop flowers, showing her that cold winter eventually gives way to a spring season and so snowdrops became a symbol of hope.​The Victorians associated purity, hope, rebirth and sympathy with this flower. In the Grimm Brothers’ original version of the fairy tale, nowadays known as Snow White, the main character’s name was actually Snow Drop.

One more recent scientific development has been the discovery that a substance called galanthamine, when extracted from certain bulbs, can yield a drug which slows the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This chemical complex was first extracted from Galanthus (Snowdrop) and the closely related Leucojum (Snowflake), but interest then turned to the larger Narcissus bulbs and certain varieties of Cornish daffodils have been used instead. One must not forget that daffodil bulbs are toxic, as the starving Dutch found when they tried to eat them in World War II.

So, we will seek to increase our stock of snowdrops at St. Illogan Church. Snowdrop bulbs being very small are subject to drying if uprooted. We will transplant some of them ‘in the green’ in March into places where we think they will thrive.

Andrew Tompsett




2017 has been a particularly difficult year for the churchyard team which has faced high winds and seemingly endless rain. Nevertheless, we are very grateful to them for spending 520 hours keeping the extensive area under control with some left for the wildlife, and this is appreciated by all users. (More volunteers would be warmly welcomed!).

The biennial tree   inspection, carried out with safety in mind, leaves us with one or two jobs to be carried out as advised. Our regular tree contractor has been busy again reducing the overhanging branches in the vicinity of the bus stop and all along the east boundary beside the road. Urgent action was taken when two large ivy-covered stumps obstructed the path to Merritt’s grave. The ‘new’ burial area has been opened up by the removal of four medium sized trees and this not only allows more sunshine in but improves access.