Snowflake waiting to be found

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A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through a piece of woodland in the St Boswells area, admiring the carpet of nodding snowdrops in the dappled sunlight streaming through the leafless trees, when my eye caught a group that looked just a bit different.

It was only a small group, at the base of a huge oak tree, but they looked bigger, the leaves a bit glossier and the flower heads were more bell-shaped. On hands and knees, a closer inspection revealed that the petals were tipped with green.

There were only six blooms, but I began to feel a bit excited as something way back in my memory told me that there was a plant fitting this description called spring snowflake and I seemed to recall the late Selkirk naturalist Arthur Smith, telling me something about it.

I took some pictures and when I got home I looked it up and discovered that it was definitely spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum). So far so good. Delving deeper, I consulted the botanical list for Roxburghshire and discovered that there was only one other record for it in the county. It was time to consult the experts.

I contacted the botanical recorder for the county, told him what I’d found and emailed the pictures. He got back immediately, confirmed my identification and told me that the only other record was around 30 years ago from Ferniehurst Castle near Jedburgh.

A few days later I told the landowner what I had found and was immediately directed to another colony of nine blooms in a different location in nearby woodland. Apparently they had been there for years but had not spread at all.

Also known as St John’s bells, the plant is not native to the Borders and was no doubt introduced to stately home gardens by plant collectors of bygone centuries and has since escaped in some places to become naturalised in estate woodlands. Nonetheless it counts as a naturalised species in botanical publications and as such, my St Boswells find will appear in a future Botanical Society of the British Isles publication, as a notable new record.

It just goes to show that even in the depths of February, botanical rarities can turn up. I am sure that there must be more of these little beauties hiding away in Borders woodlands, just waiting to be discovered, so keep your eyes open.