What is a Summer Snowflake?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum is a delicate flowering plant native throughout Europe and parts of Asia. Often cultivated for sale in other places, the summer snowflake is a popular plant for shade gardens and can be grown in nearly all temperate climates. It is sometimes easily confused with its sister plant, the spring snowflake, but grows larger and generally blooms later in the season.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Leucojum aestivum is part of the amaryllis family of plants and is generally grown from shallowly planted bulbs. In maturation, the plant can be up to 20 inches (50.8 cm) tall, with blooms standing quite high above the plant. The plant consists of a few main flowering shoots, several thin dark green leaves, and clusters of delicate, bell-shaped white flowers. The flowers droop downwards and may have a green or yellow spot at the edge of each petal. Most summer snowflakes will have up to seven blooms per shoot.

In general, the summer snowflake does not actually bloom in summer. Given enough sun, it usually will bloom in late spring, just as temperatures start to rise. Growers in warm areas, such as in Southern California, often have blooms as early as March. The spring snowflake, by contrast, may bloom in February or slightly later, as soon as the frost leaves the ground.

A European native, the summer snowflake is beloved throughout the United Kingdom, but also blooms in profusion throughout Eastern Europe. The Carpathian mountain range is noted for its large wild population of the flowers. It is the county flower of Berkshire, in southeastern England, and is also known as the Lodden Lily for its profusion in the meadows and stream banks of the Lodden Valley in the same area.

Unlike the spring snowflake, the summer variety likes consistently moist soil and partial shade. In the wild, it often grows along streams and rivers, using the moving water as a way to spread seeds further downstream. In gardens, summer snowflake does well alongside ponds, creeks, and other water features. Some gardeners note that the flower is resistant to being transplanted, and may take several years to bloom after a big move.

Some gardeners note that the flower is exceptionally good for shade gardens. Since it loves moist soil, it has a natural resistance to the rotting problems that can destroy many bulbs in shady areas. Clumps of snowflake look lovely under the spreading canopies of tall trees, or mixed in with other shade-lovers such as ferns.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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