It's rare to see a growing flower surrounded by snow. Poets and storytellers have used the image of a perfect flower against freshly fallen snow as a metaphor for something unexpected and wonderful. It may sound like a myth, but it is possible. Some flowers do grow even in snow, but it takes a combination of cold-hardiness and natural winter-blooming or early-blooming patterns for this phenomenon to happen.
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Frost-hardy, winter-flowering annuals are planted every fall and blossom the following winter and early spring. Marigold (Calendula), foxglove (Digitalis), pansy (Viola) and larkspur (Delphinium) withstand light frost, freezing temperatures and even continue to grow in light snow. Heavy snow may freeze or suffocate the flowers, but cold-hardy annuals are resistant to winter temperatures. Warm weather is likely to cause more damage to these flowers than cold.
Many shrubs flower in the winter. Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) blossoms in early January and February with red, yellow or orange flowers. Viburnum "Dawn" blooms from November to March with white flowers. Other winter-blooming shrubs include wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and winter honeysuckles (Lonicera fragrantissima). Sweetbox (Sarcococca) is an evergreen shrub that blooms in January. Other evergreen, winter-blooming shrubs include winter Daphne (Daphne odora) and Christmas box (Sarcococca ruscifolia).
The snow crocus (Crocus chrysanthus) is named for its ability to bloom up through the snow. Snow crocus are some of the first spring bloomers. Native to the Balkan Mountains, the flowers are very cold-hardy and tolerant of snow and ice. Snow crocus bloom in a wide range of colors, including yellow, white and orange.
Rare Winter Bloomers
Less-common winter-blooming flowers include snow trillium (Trillium nivale). Snow trillium can be hard to see if snow is deep because the flowers are white and this plant grows only 6 inches tall. Snow trillium flowers in February and March. Snowdrop (Galanthus) grows from bulbs. The flowers, which look like white bells, begin blooming in mid-January. Snowdrops have tough little leaves that pierce the snow to allow the blossoms to grow.
- Oregon State University Extension Service; Winter Blooming Flowers Can Brighten Cold Gray Days; Carol Savonen
- Skagit County Extension; Winter Flowering Shrubs; Valerie Jean Rose; November 2010
- University of Arkansas Extension; Plant of the Week Snow Crocus; Gerald Klingaman; February 2006
- Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program: Snow trillium (Trillium nivale)
- Channel 4: Snowdrop Fact Sheet