March 8th, 2016 Sections: Plants

450px-Crocus_flavus_ssp_flavus_04A sure sign that Spring has finally arrived, the first bulbs have started to appear in the garden at our hotel – bright yellow and purple Crocuses, (or should that be Croci?).

The Crocus is one of the first flowers of Spring to bloom.

As well as being pretty, these harbingers of Spring raise our spirits with their bright and bold colours after the drab monotony of winter.

Yellow is a vivid reminder of the sun and it’s source of renewing energy; evocative of warmth and cheerfulness; carries a promise of hope and better things to come; is associated with spontaneity and youth … and, OK, to be fair, it is also associated with cowardliness and jealousy, deceit and a lack of scruples,

Over the years, Purple has come to symbolize magic and mystery; spirituality and creativity; virtue and faith; wealth and power; dignity and royalty.  Apparently there is both an age and a cultural difference in the way that people see purple, with younger people associating with it with happiness and freedom; a lack of inhibitions and ‘baggage’; and in some cultures it is seen as the colour of mourning … or the colour of pride

Actually, although we call them bulbs, but strictly speaking, the crocus grows from a corm … which may look like a bulb, but I am told that, although from the outside they look very similar, there is a difference.

For example, a bulb is really a series of ‘leaves’ that have formed in rings from a central stem that is growing underground, one around another and are replaced by new layers as the older ones are used up by the growing plant; whereas a corm is a unified whole – cut the in half, (what a waste), and you won’t see any rings.  They are a sort of modified stem growing underground – which will be wholly consumed as the plant grows, but replaced by one or more newly formed corms emerging from the base.

Each corm produces a single stem flanked with long grass-like leaves, and culminates in a single flower – unless that particular corm has more than one ‘growing point’ – with is long salverform bloom tapering off into a narrow tube.

The crocus is a member of the Iris family of flowering plants and there are about 80 or 90 (sources differ) varieties … of which about 30 are cultivated commercially.  They grow in woodland, scrub, and meadows from sea level to alpine tundra and are found throughout Central and Southern Europe, North Africa and across Asia.


The name, Crocus, is derived from the Latin adjective crocatus, meaning saffron yellow.

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus).  The spice is derived from the flower’s three stigmas, (the distal ends of the plant’s carpels – or female reproductive organs), and parts of its style, (the stalk connecting the stigmas to the rest of the plant), which are harvested by hand in the autumn, (which is when this particular type of Crocus flowers), dried and then used in cooking as a seasoning and colouring agent.

It takes thousands of flowers to get an ounce of Saffron, (actually, one source says about 70000 flowers to produce a pound – 0.45kg – of Saffron), which helps to explain why it is considered the world’s most expensive spice by weight.

Although the names Crocus and Saffron are both derived from words associated with the colour yellow, the Crocus sativus is actually a light purple in colour and the ‘threads’ – the dried stamen and style – have a reddish tint.

Knowing that crocuses are found throughout Kyrgyzstan – even in the wild – and that so many plants, (apples and tulips, for example), seem to hail from this part of the world, I would like to say that the crocus also originated here … but that’s not the case – in fact they seem to have originated from Greece and Southwest Asia.

We do know that the flowers were cultivated in ancient Europe, (in Minoan Crete and on the Island of Santorini), because we have frescoes that depict their cultivation for saffron … but, earlier than that,  saffron has been as a pigment in paints in cave art some 50000 years old (!) in what is now Iraq.

Legend has it that, after ancient Persia conquered Kashmir, Persian saffron crocus corms were planted there, sometime before 500BC and the Phoenicians then began to market the new Kashmiri saffron by utilising their extensive trade routes and it was used not only in cooking, but in the treatment of melancholy and as a fabric dye.  Saffron is still used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac, antispasmodic and expectorant.  What’s more, some recent studies have suggested that saffron may also have learning or memory-improving properties and be beneficial in treating some other conditions.


They seem to have arrived in Northern Europe with the Dutch Ambassador to the Byzantium Court, and the Dutch took a liking to them and cultivated them, developing new varieties.


Apart from their colour and beauty, crocuses are popular with gardeners because they are low maintenance, and thus relatively easy to grow.  Once they have been planted in a good spot, in well drained soil, in a spot that gets a lot of sunshine, then basically they will ‘look after themselves’ and grow up year after year with virtually no further intervention required.


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