There are two sub-species:
It is not known which of the two sub-species corresponds with the photographs.
- Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum ssp. aestivum)
- Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum ssp. pulchellum) is slenderer and smaller than the above, is more common in gardens, and has two sharp edges throughout the length (rather than at only the ends with ssp. aestivum)
There are two cultivars:
Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant' which has larger flowers, and
Leucojum vernum 'Podpolozje' which has yellow rather than green marks on the tepals.
Can be mistaken for :
Spring Snowflake but that is shorter at 40cm, with flowers only slightly wider (by 2mm), but flowers much earlier (from Jan to April) rather than the April to May of Summer Snowflake, and has darker-green markings on the petals/sepals. Tellingly,
Spring Snowflake only has one flower per stem, rather than the 3 to 7 of Summer Snowflake.
It cannot be confused with: any of the many Snowdrops because they too have but one flower atop, rather than the few of Summer Snowflake. The plant smells of neither onions, nor of garlic, which will rule out many other vaguely similar flowers.
It is native to the UK, but also escapes from gardens. It grows in wettish meadows or shaded damp copses and riversides. It is a misnomer; it flowers later than most other similar flowers in late spring and not summer as its name may suggest.
No relation to : Snowberry,
Summer Snowflake was once common in the Loddon Valley in Berkshire, hence the secondary name 'Loddon Lily'. It has a slight fragrance.
The ovary inflates after dropping the petals. It contains the seeds, and will float in water, thus spreading in wettish places.
Summer Snowflake, up until about 2003 when the AGP II nomenclature arose, used to belong to the now deprecated Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae), but was moved into the Garlic and Onion Family (Alliacea), however, it still manufactures alkaloids typical of the defunct Amaryllis Family, such as Galanthamine and its relative
Homolycorine, and the pre-cursor of all these types
4'-O-Methylnorbelladine. Also present are
Isotazettine. Galanthamine, Hamayne and Lycorine are the dominant alkaloids in Summer Snowflake.
There is a large variability in the proportion of the alkaloids present in Summer Snowflake, depending mainly on the growing conditions, with some conditions favouring Galanthamine-type alkaloids at the expense of Lycorine-type alkaloids, and vice versa. As a percentage of the sum total of all alkaloids present in the bulbs, Galanthamine was found to vary from 4% to 99% when 18 populations of Summer Snowflake in Bulgaria were measured, a wide variation. Two Galanthamine-type alkaloids,
Methylleucotamine, present in samples from Japan were absent from Bulgarian samples.
Estivin) have also been reported in Summer Snowflake.
Galanthamine is used medicinally to treat Alzheimers disease because it exhibits anti-cholinesterase activity, enhancing nerve signal propagation, stimulating excitatory responses in the spinal cord, bulbal and cortical centres of the brain, and improving skeletal and smooth muscle tone and contraction ability. It is also an Atropine agonist and exhibits anti-
Curare properties. It can also be used to treat poliomyelitis, neuritis, radiculitis and various types of paralysis and myoatrophy.
Hamayne is even more similar to Haemanthamine, which is also an 'Amarilladaceae' alkaloid and probably present also in Summer Snowflake.
Apart from their names, there is not a lot of similarity between Lycorine and HomoLycorine. Rings have been broken, re-arranged and an oxygen atom incorporated. Lycorine displays promising anti-tumour activity. Lycorine is much more similar to Norpluvine, another 'Amarilladaceae' alkaloid probably present also in Summer Snowflake. Poisoning has been associated with Summer Snowflake, which is sometimes mistaken for
Onion, the poisonous principle being attributed to Lycorine, but it is likely that all alkaloids within Summer Snowflake are poisonous to a greater or lesser extent.
Tazettine is an amaryllidaceae alkaloid found principally in the bulbs of
Chinese Sacred Lily Polyanthus narcissus aka Narcissus tazetta, a Mediterranean plant not native to the UK but which is also found in
Slender Snowdrop (Galanthus gracilis) and
Pleated Snowdrop (Galanthus plicatus ssp. byzantinus).