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Plant of the Month 2018

Flower_SCI Summer Reception 2017

In recent months Plant of the Month has taken inspiration from SCI’s SCIence Garden, which was launched in July 2017. Dr Alison Foster and committee members of SCI’s Horticulture Group played an integral role in bringing the Garden to life, with a diverse array of plants representing SCI’s technical and regional groups. The Garden also showcases the connections between all areas of chemistry related science and highlights the intrinsic role played by natural resources and the environment in industry.

Archive issues of the Horticulture Group newsletter, including Plant of the Month up to March 2017, can be found here.

January: Galanthus woronowii Snowdrop, Amaryllidaceae

January in the SCIence Garden

Galanthus woronowii, Snowdrop, AmaryllidaceaeThe weather has been so topsy-turvy this winter – with temperatures fluctuating wildly it is hard to know when the first snowdrops will flower in the SCIence garden. What we do know is that they are keenly anticipated!

The snowdrop species that has been planted in the SCIence garden is Galanthus woronowii. Rather than the narrow glaucous leaves of the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), this Caucasian species has bright shiny green, wide leaves underneath the nodding white flowers. These shiny green leaves emerge with one leaf tightly clasped around the other. This is described by botanists as supervolute vernation. Which kind of vernation a snowdrop exhibits assists in the identification of the particular kind. There are two other main kinds of vernation  applicable here: applanate – where the emerging leaves are pressed flat to each other – and explicative – where the leaves are pressed flat to each other but the edges are folded or rolled back.

This species was named in honour of the Russian botanist Georg Woronow (1874-1931) and originates from the eastern black sea coast - from the ancient provinces of Colchis (for which Colchicum are named) and Lazistan. It favours stony and rocky spots that retain moisture – on river banks, in scrub and on forest margins. Let’s hope we can this replicate here.

All snowdrops are listed on the CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species) Appendix II list. This is a list of currently non-threatened species that nevertheless should have their trade monitored and regulated.

Galanthus woronowii was the first snowdrop that the medicinally extremely useful substance galanthamine was isolated from. Galanthamine is currently recommended for the treatment of moderate Alzheimer’s disease by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) but is very effective in earlier stages of the disease too. Although originally isolated from this snowdrop, galanthamine can be found in many other members of the Amaryllidaceae such as Narcissus spp., Leucojum aestivum and Crinum amabile. Today, part of the commercial supply of this molecule comes from chemical synthesis, itself an amazing chemical achievement due to the structural complexity of the molecule, and partly from the natural product isolated from different sources across the globe. In China, Lycoris radiata is grown as a crop, in Bulgaria, Leucojum aestivum is farmed and in the UK the humble daffodil, Narcissus ‘Carlton’ is the provider. Look out for these Narcissus in flower in the SCIence garden later in the spring.

The estimated patient population for Alzheimer’s is 5.2 million and the predictions are that galanthamine will be used to treat almost half a million of those sufferers. Sales of Reminyl (galanthamine) in 2003 were £7.9M. One hectare would provide between 15 and 20 tons of bulbs and several hundred tons of bulbs would be required per year to supply all the galanthamine required.

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