Species of the genus Galanthus L. (Amaryllidaceae), known as snowdrops, rank among the finest garden plants and are particularly welcomed as early flowering harbingers of spring. The genus comprises 21 species of bulbous, petaloid monocotyledons, native to Europe, Asia Minor, and the Near East, with centers of diversity found in Greece and regions adjacent to the Balkans, Turkey, and the Caucasus (Davis, 1999, 2001; Tan et al., 2014). Snowdrops are the world’s most traded wild-sourced bulb genus. As a result of illegal collection, habitat destruction, and climate change they are threatened in the wild and several species of the genus are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. However, since 1990, all species have been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and the trade in wild specimens has been heavily restricted (IUCN, 2018).
Snowdrops are easy to recognize thanks to the nearly universal presence of two leaves and solitary pendant white flowers composed of six perianth segments, which are arranged in two whorls with the inner ones being smaller than the outer and with green markings. However, the species delimitation is problematic and the infrageneric classification uncertain, which causes problems in the implementation of trade and conservation policies (Rønsted et al., 2013). Snowdrops are difficult to distinguish and classify because of the lack of clearly definable morphological characters and the presence of great variability (Davis and Barnett, 1997). Delimitation of species has been mainly based on leaf characteristics (color, width, and vernation), flowering time, the number of green marks on the inner perianth segments, and distribution (Zonneveld et al., 2003). Numerous studies have been conducted in the past few decades to find taxonomically informative data, including morphological (Budnikov, 2011; Sidjimova, 2006), anatomical (Davis and Barnett, 1997), and molecular investigations (Rønsted et al., 2013; Zonneveld et al., 2003).
Along with taxonomic research, many regional accounts have been published (Bavcon, 2008; Brickell, 1984; Delipavlov, 1971; Maly, 1904; Pospichal, 1897; Scopoli, 1772; Webb, 1980; Wulfen, 1858; Zeybek and Sauer, 1995) but the genus has remained insufficiently investigated in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula. Chorology and ecology of snowdrops in Serbia have recently undergone a detailed study (Jovanović et al., 2016), indicating that the genus is represented by two species. The species G. nivalis has a broad distribution, whereas G. elwesii is distributed mainly in the eastern part of the country. The latter is distinguished from the former by its wider and glaucous leaves, supervolute vernation and the presence of a basal mark on the inner perianth segments (Jovanović et al., 2016). Before this study, the genus was mentioned by several authors (Petković et al., 1982; Stjepanović-Veseličić, 1975); however, due to the different approaches and difficulties in the classification of the genus, the actual patterns of its diversity and distribution have remained uncertain. Many varieties and forms of G. nivalis have been recorded in Serbia (Radić, 2000), although no infraspecific taxa are currently recognized for this species (Davis, 1999, 2001). In addition, there are ambiguous data that suggest the presence of Galanthus gracilis Čelak. in the flora of Serbia (Adamović, 1909; Jovanović et al., 2012). Thus, a study on the delimitation of the taxa occurring in the country has become necessary.
The study of different types of variability has considerable theoretical and practical importance, for example, to clarify the problems of systematic characters and to select the material with desirable traits for practical use. Genetics and ecological adaptability can also be confirmed by morphologically variable characteristics (Lavadinović and Marković, 2012). In this study, morphometric analysis of 17 populations of G. nivalis and four populations of G. elwesii from Serbia was performed to assess phenotypical differences among them. The study should show the nature of their variability and whether the values of the examined characters are discreet or there is a continuous variability between the samples. In particular, the aims of the study were to clarify the patterns of morphological variations and disclose the level of morphological differentiation within the analyzed species and to indicate the most informative characters for the identification of possible infraspecific taxa. Furthermore, the article gives a proposal for the introduction of new breeding material into cultivation.
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