Crocus or Crocuses (from the ancient Greek “kokkos”) is a genus in the family Iridaceae. There are around 250 species of crocus, mostly growing on grasslands, with some species also found in Iberian and North African mountains. They are all native to the Mediterranean region, mostly Southern Europe and Southwestern Asia.
They can be found growing wild in southern England as well as across most of southern and central Spain, Portugal, France (Normandy), Italy (especially Sicily), Greece, Turkey and the Balkans. They grow profusely on many Aegean islands including Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes. They are popular with gardeners as well as natural landscapers in many parts of the world as they add a bright splash of color to any landscape or flower bed with their intense colors.
They are widely cultivated for their flowers, and as such have many cultivars developed. Crocuses often bloom in autumn (fall). Although they look extremely delicate, most species of crocus can tolerate quite a bit of sunshine without shade, but prefer dappled sunlight or semi-shade during the hottest hours of daylight; full sun is best avoided. Many are hardy perennials, but some are deciduous or herbaceous and die completely at the end of their growing season.
It can be distinguished from its close relatives by looking at a few different features: stamens, leaves, the presence or absence of a well-developed bustle, and the type of corm. Most crocuses have one to six flowers per stem, but there are species that can have over a hundred.
- sativus (saffron) is an old cultivated form of Crocus flavus that was made popular in Greece, Italy and Spain from the times of Classical Antiquity throughout the Middle Ages into modern times. It is the most widely cultivated species worldwide and possibly one of the oldest.
The saffron crocus has three deep-yellow petals and three bright red stigmas, which are the distal ends of a carpel or pistil. Crocus sativus requires a corm (dormant underground stem) that is planted in spring and harvested in late summer/early autumn. The leaves decline at this stage; they do not get smaller but look more like a withered leaf. The plant is dormant over the winter, reappearing in early spring to produce flowers.
Saffron was made a valuable export commodity from an early time (particularly by Phoenicians and Minoans), which has led to some recipes calling for saffron that are actually using other cheaper spices such as turmeric, from the same family (Zingiberaceae). Saffron is extensively cultivated as a spice throughout the Mediterranean region. It was known to both Sumerians and Egyptians in Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago.
- sativus has been cultivated on small scales in China for much longer than it can be reasonably assumed that saffron was used in India, where it is native.
- roseus is a Mediterranean species endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, France and Croatia. Its name comes from its rosy stigmas, which are a popular ingredient in certain brews used to make tea-like beverages in Southeast European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. They are also used in traditional herbal medicines.
Crocuses can vary greatly in appearance, but the most commonly seen is that of Crocus sativus, which has bright orange stigmas and orange anthers surrounding a bright yellow stigma with three petals above it. The flowers are about 4–6 cm in diameter and grow in clusters of 3–6 together. Like C. sativus and many other crocuses, it is dormant in winter and reappears in spring.
- zigadenus is a species with white stigmas and orange anthers surrounding the yellow stigma. It grows between 20–60 cm tall, and has linear leaves 10–20 mm long. This plant blooms later in autumn (fall) near water, where it can be found growing on moist sands along shorelines of ponds, lakes and rivers.
- zigadenus is the only species of crocus that goes dormant in summer, and reappears in fall, which is why many people believe it to be a type of hyacinth. Crocus zigadenus is commonly used as ground cover and can tolerate shade while still producing its flowers. It has an extremely hardy nature and is more tolerant of frost than most other spring-flowering bulbs.
- zigadenus bears a relatively large flower on a sturdy stem with a white stigma and orange anthers surrounding the yellow stigma. The three outer stamens are fertile, creating pollen which is transferred to the stigma by bees and other pollinating insects. Crocus zigadenus grows in clusters of one to three together, and is dormant in summer.
Crocus Nudiflorus is a variety of Crocus Sativus which grows from the earth in the spring. It is known as spring saffron or naked-flowering crocus. The flowers are usually creamy white, but can come in pinks and reds and all shades in between.
They bloom around the same time as other bulbs, such as tulips. The flowers are very small and do not have stigmas or anthers. They smell like spring – it’s hard to describe exactly what it smells like, but most people seem to agree that they smell nice.
Crocus Nudiflorus plants can grow up to a foot tall and can be planted in the fall or the spring. The fall planting is usually better, since winter rains will allow the bulb to gain nutrients that it will need for next year’s flowers.
Crocus Banaticus, also known as Crocus cv. ‘Banat’, and sows a saffron crocus. The flowers of this species are violet-purple in color with three to six petals. It is native to Yugoslavia.
It can be planted in the fall or the spring, and it does best in fertile soil that gets a lot of sun. After growing Crocus Banaticus plants, you should cut off most of the leaves from around the bottom. This will make sure that the bulbs will have room to expand. The plant will not die from this, and next year it should be bigger than before.
Crocus Banaticus bulbs should be planted in fertile, moist soil that gets a lot of sun. They can be grown indoors or outdoors. If you plant them outside, they will need to be prepared for outdoor conditions by being protected from the cold.
Crocus Heuffelianus is one of the most popular crocuses. It features a bright orchid-purple color that can light up any garden bed, whether planted together in a clump or scattered throughout. It has a light spring crocus scent, which is most noticeable in the evening. The petals are typically about an inch long and can be slightly irregular in shape to create a unique look that separates this variety from other flowers. This plant makes a beautiful specimen that can deliver color to gardens all season, year after year.
Crocus Imperati features simple little flower buds that grow into large, vibrant purple petals. The petals on this variety are about two inches in length and can be quite solid as a whole flower with little variation. It was originally grown in the Netherlands before being introduced to gardeners throughout the world.
This crocus is very easy to grow and will not produce any extra-large bulbs; it is small and delicate looking. It is also quite stable and will stay a beautiful purple, year after year without replanting.
The Firefly Crocus is one of the most popular crocuses in the world. Nearly everyone who grows flowers has heard of it and tried to grow it at some point or another. It features a bright, pure white color that can be seen all over springtime gardens.
The petals are typically about two inches long and will often have a slight curve to them. This variety of crocus also produces a faint, sweet aroma that is most noticeable in the evening.
This variety is very easy to grow and can be enjoyed by people of all skill levels. It will stay pure white year after year and even as it grows older, the flowers stay quite vibrant. They are ultimately resilient flowers that can thrive through the harshest of seasons.
Miss Vain is a crocus that was grown in the Netherlands by famed Dutch crocus breeder C.C. Engman. The tiny buds on this variety grow into large, beautiful flowers with violet-purple petals and yellow stamens. It has a light scent of spring honey, which can be quite pleasant as it fills a garden in the spring.
Miss Vain makes a very attractive addition to any flower bed and is easy enough for even beginners to grow and enjoy. The petals have an interesting shape that can be quite irregular, making it stand out above other purple crocuses. It also stays incredibly vibrant year after year, even if neglected or grown in climates that are not ideal.
Also known as C.I. ‘Skyline Impression’, this variety of crocus features light, delicate petals that are an unusual shade of rose-purple. The buds are typically about two inches in length and resemble a little pink flower with purple coloring at the end of each petal.
This plant makes a very attractive addition to any spring garden and will even thrive in full shade. The soft colors are sure to bring a vibrant splash of color to any flower bed or landscape design. It is very easy to grow and can be used for almost all applications, as long as the bulbs stay somewhat moist throughout the growing season.
Snow Crocus is a delicate crocus that features very pale, almost white petals and yellow central stamens. The buds on this plant can be about an inch in length with wrinkled ends. It is often used as a border or springtime filler, due to its soft colors and the fact that it does not require much maintenance.
Snow Crocus is a very resilient crocus that requires little attention and can thrive over the course of many years. It features an interesting shape to its petals and can be planted for almost any application in any landscape design. The beautiful, unique colors are sure to add a touch of class to anything it’s used in.
This crocus features beautiful petals that curve backwards, creating a very unusual shape. The buds are typically about two inches in length with a slight purple tint to them. It was originally grown by noted Belgian horticulturalist C. Yakar as part of his breeding program for unique crocuses.
Yakarianus is highly resistant to disease and can thrive almost anywhere. It features colorful petals that are unlike anything else in its class, making it a very valuable variety for any garden.
Q: Why do my crocus stop growing?
A: Crocuses are some of the easiest plants to grow, however they can be prone to a few issues. Overwatering a plant is probably the most common issue that causes crocus bulbs to die or produce dying leaves. Be sure not to over water your bulbs when working with them.
Q: Can you plant crocus bulbs too early in the spring?
A: No, Crocus like a cold period before they are planted outside.
Q: Why do some of my crocus have two colors on them?
A: This is called bicolor and it means that there was a variety of flower nearby when the flower was being formed.
Q: What causes some of my crocus to be really curly?
A: This is called fasciation and it can occur when there are growth hormones present or for unknown reasons. It is not a harmful condition and will usually not have an effect on the plant’s life cycle or long term health.
Q: Why do some of my crocus curl up?
A: These are called bulbils. They can be removed from flowers before they open, then planted later in the fall or early spring to produce a new plant.
Q: Can I eat crocus bulbs?
A: No, they contain toxic alkaloids and should not be eaten.
Q: How do I get rid of the bugs and worms?
A: You can always handpick them from your plants, or purchase a pesticide that is safe for use on crocus plants. Be sure to follow all instructions carefully when using pesticides.
Q: Can you plant crocus in fall so they will grow in winter?
A: Yes, the fall is a good time to plant crocus inside.
Q: Can you grow crocus from corms?
A: No, they will not produce flowers and will just act as an ornamental plant. It is best to use bulbs for this purpose.
Q: How do I stop the crocus from flowering?
A: If you want to stop a crocus plant from flowering at a certain time, then it is best to dig up the bulbs and put them in storage. They will not grow as well or flower without a period of dormancy.
Q: How big do crocuses get?
A: The typical crocus can reach anywhere from one to four inches in height, depending on the variety.
Q: Can you plant them outside?
A: This is usually not a good idea because the bulbs will become exposed and could dry out. It is best to wait until the weather has stabilized before planting your crocuses.
Crocus varieties are available in all shades and colors of the spectrum. Grown for their delicate blossoms, crocus make an attractive addition to any landscape design. Including crocus in your landscape will surely enhance the beauty of your home or garden.