SUMMER SNOWFLAKE

LODDON LILY

Leucojum aestivum

Onion & Garlic Family [Alliaceae]
(Formerly in: Amaryllis Family [Amaryllidaceae]])

month8apr month8april month8may

status
statusZnative
flower
flower8bicolour
flower
flower8white
inner
inner8green
inner
inner8orange
morph
morph8actino
petals
petalsZ6
type
typeZbell
stem
stem8lens
toxicity
toxicityZmedium

16th April 2012, Garden Estate, Oxfordshire. Photo: © Dave Redfern
Grows up to 60cm in wet meadows or copses.


20th May 2013, Long Dike resr, Low Bradfield, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD


16th April 2012, Garden Estate, Oxfordshire. Photo: © Dave Redfern
The flower-heads are wider than Snowdrops and more bell-shaped. Un-like Snowdrops where there is only a solitary flower, there are several (between three and seven) flowers on drooping stalks at the top.


16th April 2012, Garden Estate, Oxfordshire. Photo: © Dave Redfern
Long green linear leaves, rounded at the end.


20th May 2013, Long Dike resr, Low Bradfield, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
One of the defining features the lime-green marks at the tip of each of the six white 'petals' (actually tepals) are visible on both sides of the petals. The flower stalks themselves are minutely toothed (except those of the cultivated garden variety - as here in the Low Bradfield photographs).
Also, the individual flower stalks are minutely toothed on

20th May 2013, Long Dike resr, Low Bradfield, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The sepal tube is ovaloid, green and lacks any sepal teeth.


20th May 2013, Long Dike resr, Low Bradfield, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The tips of the petals are crimped where the green marks (sometimes chevrons) are.


20th May 2013, Long Dike resr, Low Bradfield, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Another defining feature is the orange pollen on the anthers. The crimping of the petal extremities is more noticeable from below.


20th May 2013, Long Dike resr, Low Bradfield, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The anthers are long and angular. In the very centre is a style with a green ring near the tip.


16th April 2012, Garden Estate, Oxfordshire. Photo: © Dave Redfern
Stems are roughly lenticular (lens-shaped) in cross-section with two sharp edges near the end (The very similar sub-species, Leucojum aestivum ssp. pulchellum has two sharp edges along the whole length of the stem, and is the more common in gardens). The leaves are slightly keeled (V-shaped) for rigidity.


16th April 2012, Garden Estate, Oxfordshire. Photo: © Dave Redfern
The bulb from which it grows is brown.


There are two sub-species:

  • 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)
It is not known which of the two sub-species corresponds with the photographs.

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, Snow-in-Summer, or Glory-of-the-Snow.

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.

AMARYLLIS ALKALOIDS

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 Hamayne; Lycorine, Homolycorine, and the pre-cursor of all these types 4'-O-Methylnorbelladine. Also present are Tazzetine and 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, Leucotamine and Methylleucotamine, present in samples from Japan were absent from Bulgarian samples.

Sanguinine, N-AllylNorgalathamine, N-(14-MethylAllyl)Norgalanthamine, Leucorenine and Aestivin (aka 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).



  Leucojum aestivum  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Alliaceae  

Distribution
 family8Onion & Garlic family8Alliaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Leucojum
Leucojum
(Snowflakes)

SUMMER SNOWFLAKE

LODDON LILY

Leucojum aestivum

Onion & Garlic Family [Alliaceae]
(Formerly in: Amaryllis Family [Amaryllidaceae]])