DR JEREMY BURGESS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY DR JEREMY BURGESS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
The common snowdrop. Galanthus nivalis.The picture shows flowering snowdrops in February in the UK. Each flower consists of two whorls of three tepals. The outer tepals are spreading and unmarked; the inner tepals are notched at their tips, and marked with a green blotch. G. nivalis is native to the Pyrenees, Turkey, Greece and Iran. The most likely date of its introduction to Britain is the 16th century. It is now widely naturalised in the UK, able to spread by seed and bulbil production, as well as by human agency. The bulbs contain an alkaloid called galantamine. This is a reversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine - an essential step in the normal functioning of nerves. Galantamine is used in the early treatment of dementia (Alzheimer's disease) as well as in cases of poisoning by organophosphorus insecticides.
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