Outdoors: Nature Note

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The Independent Online
Look across any deep Cotswold valley at this time of year, into the wood on the far side, and your eye is likely to be taken by a patch of white, showing up strongly among the bare trees. That bed of snowdrops is not merely beautiful - it is poignant, too, for it marks the site of an old cottage of which all other trace has vanished. More durable than stone and mortar, the little plants have long outlived not only the humans who planted them, but their habitations too. These far-flung colonies are centuries old, and they have survived because the plants reproduce mostly by division of the bulbs, rather than by seeding.

Some experts believe that snowdrops are native to Britain, others that they were introduced from warmer sites in continental Europe. Either way, they have long been seen by the Catholic Church as symbols of purity, and in particular as the emblem of Candlemas, the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. Their religious significance has left many monastic ruins surrounded by huge drifts.

It is strange, but perhaps also comforting, to reflect that the very plants now blooming will still be a transient glory of the spring when everyone who reads this newspaper today is long dead and gone.

Duff Hart-Davis

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