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Common Name(s): Snowbloom (esherf)
Description: Snowbloom comprises several related varieties of algae that form colorful masses in fresh snow. Although the individual plants are too small to see with the naked eye, they form large vivid drifts that show up dramatically in the pale frozen landscape. The most prevalent colors are red, yellow, green, and blue.
Pests: Tiny living creatures feed on snowbloom and other cryophilic algae. These include ciliates, ice worms, nematodes, rotifers, and springtails. In Northern culture, ice-worms and snow-fleas (a type of springtail) are particularly annoying because they're big enough to be obvious to human eyes, and people don't like to eat things that are crawling with bugs.
Larger animals may also disrupt snowbloom. Mice and other small omnivores will eat any of it. Herbivores only go after the green kind, but shagbacks are really fond of it. And where small critters go, larger predators follow. Pretty soon an unguarded drift gets demolished.
Uses: Snowbloom is an attractive food source. Each color has its own flavor and somewhat different nutrients. People crave the sweet and fruity taste after a winter of preserved foods.
Northerners know the right conditions for snowbloom and quickly spot it as it begins to develop. The rangers on duty rouse the village as soon as they're sure a usable bloom is forming. People use cones of birchbark to scoop up the tasty treat. Sadly, it doesn't keep, so must be consumed at once.
As with other delicacies, women wearing cage beads get first choice. Sick or injured people come next, then children and elders, and the able-bodied adults last. Consequently people often rush to gather what they can and offer it to their friends or loved ones. Young men eagerly gather it for women they wish to court. One popular type of bead, carved from a birch twig with the top dyed pink or green, references this custom.
The green and blue varieties are higher in chlorophyll, magnesium, and vitamin K. They also have higher sugar content, so they taste sweeter. Green snowbloom has a leafy, herbal flavor. Blue snowbloom has a minty note, probably spliced in from something like wintergreen.
The red and yellow varieties are higher in carotenoids and Vitamin A. They also have a stronger fruity flavor, and not quite as much sugar. Red snowbloom tastes of berries. Yellow snowbloom is tangy, with more of a vegetable note.
Raisers and healers have to take extra care when snowbloom emerges. Everyone goes running out into the chilly spring weather, wades through the snow, and eats as much snowbloom as they can hold. Hypothermia is a risk on the day of a bloom. Colds and other complaints may follow a few days later. There's some effort to keep the more vulnerable people from having to go out in the snow themselves, hence the tradition of bringing cones back to them. This is counterbalanced by the fact that a bloom never lasts long, and can be disrupted by wildlife. People get excited, everybody wants to get some while they can, and before you know it half the village is soaked and chilled.
Lore: The Ancients have passed down some information about snowbloom. Therefore people know that it's nutritious and safe to eat. They have also been told that snowbloom consists of plants too tiny to see, but they're a bit dubious about that. Sure, some of it is green like plants are supposed to be, but the other colors are more confusing and the whole concept just seems weird.
People are more enamored of the stories that the furshirts tell about snowbloom. One favorite relates how the Sky Dancers of the aurora sometimes drop one of their scarves when they get too caught up in a courting dance.
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Stories and poetry related to this article: Snowbloom (poem)
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