DR JEREMY BURGESS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY DR JEREMY BURGESS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
The common snowdrop. Galanthus nivalis. The picture shows, top left, the tip of the ascending scape ( "stalk" ) with the flower set between two membraneous bracts (one only visible). The flower has two whorls of white tepals. Those of the outer whorl are entire and unmarked; the inner tepals are notched with green markings at the tip (picture centre).G. nivalis is native to the Pyrenees, and eastwards to Iran. It was probably introduced to Britain in the 16th century and is now widely naturalised. The bulbs contain an alkaloid called galantamine. This is a reversible inhibitor of acetylcholine esterase, the enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine - an essential process for 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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