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Crocus: Crocus sativus

Botanical name: Crocus sativus

Common name: saffron crocus

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chief cultivator

Mercer island, Wa

at a glance

Soil: damp, neutral, sand
Zones: 6a thru 9b

deer resistant, fall interest, edible

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description for "Crocus: Crocus sativus"

Autumn flowering saffron crocus has been in cultivation since the Middle Ages. This crocus is grown even today for the long orange-red stigmas, which are dried to make the dye, flavoring agent and medicine called saffron. Blooming in October, the rich purple flowers boast yellow anthers and an intense orange-scarlet, trilobed style. Bulbs planted in the fall may not flower until the following fall; however, once established they multiply rapidly and should be divided every 4 to 6 years. C. sativus is not the easiest crocus to grow. It doesn't force well indoors and can be rather temperamental. Generally, the corms bloom nicely the first year, but sparsely thereafter. Saffron crocus likes rich, well-drained soil and dry, very hot summers. This is evidenced by the fact that the epicenter of the world saffron production is La Mancha, Spain. But don't despair! It may not be an entirely quixotic enterprise to plant saffron crocus in your garden. The flower has also traditionally been grown in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, where the climate certainly differs from that of Spain and other spice-producing regions like India, Egypt, Greece, and Iran. And, as mentioned, for several hundred years it was a faithful crop in England, where summers are relatively moist and cool. The corms are inexpensive and readily available at garden centers in spring, when they should be planted 4 to 6 inches deep for October bloom. After the flowers fade, the leaves grow rapidly to a length of 18 inches, remaining bright green all winter until late spring, unless squirrels, rabbits or deer do some pruning and unearthing. Russell Stafford, the knowledgeable purveyor of unusual bulbs at Odyssey Bulbs, sells the straight species and a cultivar, Crocus sativus 'Cashmirianus', reputed to be a more floriferous performer in northern gardens. Mr. Stafford suggests dividing the corm clumps every year or two. A word of warning: Never confuse saffron or any other autumn-blooming crocus with the similar looking, but highly poisonous, colchicums. It's not hard to get them mixed up, since the 60 to 70 species of fall-blooming corms in the genus Colchicum are commonly referred to as "autumn crocus" or "meadow saffron." A good way to tell them apart is to remember that colchicums have six stamens while crocuses have only three. Colchicums also belong to the Liliaceae or Lily Family while crocuses are in the Iridaceae or Iris Family. [Source:] --edited by dtd siegelgirl


Although there are roughly 80 species of crocus, the entire genus is named after this, its most versatile and arguably most handsome member (krokos being the Greek word for "saffron"). The domesticated saffron crocus (C. sativus) is an autumn-flowering perennial plant unknown in the wild. It is a sterile triploid form, possibly of the eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering Crocus cartwrightianus that originated in Crete—not, as was once generally believed, in Central Asia. The saffron crocus resulted when C. cartwrightianus was subjected to extensive artificial selection by growers seeking longer stigmas. Being sterile, the plant's purple flowers fail to produce viable seeds; reproduction depends on human assistance: corms, underground bulb-like starch-storing organs, must be dug up, broken apart, and replanted. A corm survives for one season, reproducing via this division into up to ten "cormlets" that yield new plants. Corms are small brown globules up to 4.5 centimetres (1.8 in) in diameter and are shrouded in a dense mat of parallel fibers. [Source:]

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