Crocus 'Jeanne d'Arc'

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

In the wild, Crocus vernus begins to flower as the snow melts in the mountains of Europe. It is native to the Mediterranean from the Pyrenees in the west to the Ukraine in the east, and south as far as Sicily and the Balkans. This spicy herald of spring has a history dating back thousands of years.

Crocus (plural: crocuses, croci) is part of the Iris family and consists of around 90 species. They are perennials, growing from corms. Cultivated mainly for their flowers which appear in autumn, winter, or spring, Crocuses are also cultivated and harvested for Saffron– the spice obtained from the flower’s anthers. This practice was first documented in the Mediterranean, notably on the island of Crete.  Saffron’s bitter taste and hay-like fragrance is complimented by its rich golden-yellow hue, used to colour food and textiles.It has been  traded and used for over four thousand years. Iran now accounts for approximately 90 percent of the world production of Saffron. Because each flower’s anthers need to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower, Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

The name Crocus is derived from the Greek (krokos), which in turn is probably derived from a Semitic or Sanskrit word, which mean saffron or saffron yellow. Over the years the classification of Crocus species has been revised several times, the division of the many species challenging botanists because of the range of characteristics that are available for scrutiny. Some of the species are:

C. aureus = goldencrocus

C. biflorus = two – flowered – the ‘Scotch Crocus’

C. chrysanthus = golden – flowered

C. minimus = smallest

C. nudiflorus = naked flowered

C. ochroleucus = yellowish – white

C. sativus = The Saffron Crocus

C. sieberi = after Sieber, a botanist

C. susianus = from Susa, Persia

C. vernus = spring flowering- the Dutch or Spring Crocuses are derived from this species

C. versicolour = changing or varied colour

The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back in the 1560s from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador who sent a few corms to the botanical garden in Leiden. By 1620, new garden varieties had been developed. Some species, known as “autumn crocus”, flower in late summer and autumn, often before their leaves appear. They should not be confused with Colchicum, a different genus of autumn – flowering plants.

crocus carpetAt the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in 1987, Reader’s Digest sponsored the planting of 1.6 million corms of cultivated Dutch crocus for their 50th anniversary. A further 750,000 corms of C. vernus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ and C. vernus ‘Purpureus grandiflorus’ have been planted since – a visit to Kew to see this ‘Crocus Carpet’ is a must.

Sources and further information:

Wikipedia

The Alpine House – information

National Crocus collection – Wisley

A crocus planter

Crocus carpet at Kew

Saffron

Pacific Bulb Society

Old School Gardener

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