crocus sativus



Crocus (plural: crocus, crocuses) is a genus of perennial flowering plants, native to a large area from coastal and subalpine areas of central and southern Europe (including the islands of the Aegean), North Africa and the Middle East, across Central Asia to western China.

The genus Crocus is placed botanically in the iris family (Iridaceae). The plants grow from corms and are mainly hardy perennials, and are found in a wide range of habitats, including woodland, scrub and meadows.

There are about eighty species of crocus (of which approximately 30 are cultivated). Their cup-shaped, solitary, salverform flowers taper off into a narrow tube. Their color varies enormously, although lilac, mauve, yellow and white are predominant. The grass-like, ensiform leaf shows generally a white central stripe along the leaf axis. The leaf margin is entire. All crocuses typically have three stamens. The spice saffron is obtained from the stigmas of Crocus sativus, an autumn/fall-blooming species.

The name of the genus is derived from the Greek κρόκος, krokos (attested in Homer's Iliad, The Iliad/Book XIV). In Semitic languages is (Hebrew karkom, Aramaic kurkama, Persian and Arabic kurkum, all meaning saffron or saffron yellow). In Greek, the word is also used for the similarly colored egg yolk.

Other uses of the name crocus

Though some true crocus bloom with the fall (autumn) rains, after summer's heat and drought, the name autumn crocus is often used as a common name for Colchicum, which is in the lily family (Liliaceae), and which has six stamens; it is also known as meadow saffron, though unlike true saffron the plant is toxic. The so-called prairie crocus (formerly Anemone patens, now Pulsatilla patens or P. ludoviciana) belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).

True autumn crocuses

Most true autumn crocus flower in September to November in the northern hemisphere. Some flower before their leaves appear. Autumn/fall flowering species include: Crocus banaticus (syn. C. iridiflorus), C.cancellatus, C. goulimyi, C. hadriaticus, C. kotschyanus (syn. C. zonatus), C. laevigatus, C. ligusticus (syn. C. medius ), C. niveus, C. nudiflorus, C. ochroleucus, C. pulchellus, C. sativus (saffron crocus), C. serotinus, C. speciosus, C. tournefortii. Crocus laevigatus has a long flowering-period which starts in late autumn or early winter and may continue into February.

In cultivation

As one of the first flowers to bloom in spring, the large hybridized and selected "Dutch crocus" are popular with gardeners. Crocus flowers and leaves are protected from frost by a waxy cuticle; in areas where snow and frost occasionally occur in the early spring it is not uncommon to see early-flowering crocus blooming through a light late snowfall.

Most crocus species and hybrids should be planted in a sunny position, in gritty, well-drained soil, although a few prefer shadier sites in moist soil. Some are suitable for naturalising in grass. The corms should be planted about 3–4 cm deep; in heavy soils a quantity of sharp grit should be dug in to improve drainage.

Some crocuses, especially C. tommasinianus and its selected forms and hybrids (such as 'Whitewell Purple' and 'Ruby Giant') seed prolifically and are ideal for naturalising. They can, however, become weeds in rock gardens, where they will often appear in the middle of choice, mat-forming alpine plants and can be difficult to remove.


The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where Crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, in the 1560s. A few corms were forwarded to Carolus Clusius at the botanical garden in Leiden. By 1620, the approximate date of Ambrosius Bosschaert's painting (illustration, left), new garden varieties had been developed, such as the cream-colored crocus feathered with bronze at the base of the bouquet, similar to varieties still in the market. Bosschaert, working from a preparatory drawing to paint his composed piece, which spans the whole of Spring, exaggerated the crocus so that it passes for a tulip, but its narrow, grasslike leaves give it away.


The taxonomic characteristics are based mainly on the presence or absence of a prophyll (a basal spathe) and the aspect of the style and the corm tunic.

1 Subgenus Crocus

A. Section Crocus

Series Kotschyani
* Crocus autranii
* Crocus gilanicus (discovered in 1973 and named after Gilan province in Iran where it was first found)
* Crocus karduchorum
* Crocus kotschyanus - Kotschy's crocus
* Crocus ochroleucus
* Crocus scharojanii
* Crocus vallicola

Series Longiflori
* Crocus goulimyi (see also Constantine Goulimis)
* Crocus longiflorus - Italian crocus
* Crocus ligusticus (Syn. Crocus medius)
* Crocus niveus
* Crocus serotinus - late crocus

Series Scardici
* Crocus pelistericus
* Crocus scardicus

Series Verni
* Crocus baytopiorum
* Crocus etruscus
* Crocus kosaninii
* Crocus tommasinianus - early crocus
* Crocus vernus - spring crocus, Dutch crocus

Series Versicolores
* Crocus cambessedesii
* Crocus corsicus
* Crocus imperati
* Crocus malyi
* Crocus minimus
* Crocus versicolor - cloth-of-silver crocus

Series Crocus
* Crocus asumaniae
* Crocus cartwrightianus
*Crocus sativus - saffron crocus (a sterile triploid mutant)
* Crocus hadriaticus
* Crocus mathewii
* Crocus moabiticus
* Crocus oreocreticus
* Crocus pallasii
* Crocus thomasii

B. Section Nudiscapus

Series Aleppici
* Crocus aleppicus
* Crocus boulosii
* Crocus veneris
* Crocus saris
Series Biflori
* Crocus adanensis
* Crocus aerius
* Crocus almehensis
* Crocus biflorus - silvery crocus, Scotch crocus
* Crocus caspius
* Crocus chrysanthus - golden crocus
* Crocus cyprius
* Crocus danfordiae
* Crocus hartmannianus
* Crocus kerndorffiorum
* Crocus leichtlinii
* Crocus paschei
* Crocus pestalozzae
* Crocus wattiorum

Series Carpetani
* Crocus carpetanus
* Crocus nevadensis

Series Flavi
* Crocus antalyensis
* Crocus candidus
* Crocus flavus - yellow crocus
* Crocus graveolens
* Crocus hyemalis
* Crocus olivieri
* Crocus vitellinus

Series Intertexti
* Crocus fleischeri

Series Laevigatae
* Crocus boryi
* Crocus laevigatus
* Crocus tournefortii

Series Orientales
* Crocus alatavicus
* Crocus korolkowii - celandine crocus
* Crocus michelsonii

Series Reticulati
* Crocus abantensis
* Crocus ancyrensis - Ankara crocus
* Crocus angustifolius - cloth-of-gold crocus
* Crocus cancellatus
* Crocus cvijicii
* Crocus dalmaticus
* Crocus gargaricus
* Crocus hermoneus
* Crocus reticulatus
* Crocus robertianus
* Crocus rujanensis
* Crocus sieberi - Cretan crocus
* Crocus sieheanus

Series Speciosi
* Crocus speciosus - Bieberstein's crocus, large purple crocus
* Crocus pulchellus - hairy crocus

2. Subgenus Crociris

* Crocus banaticus


  • E.A. Bowles, A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners, Martin Hopkinson 1924
  • Brian Mathew, Christopher Grey-Wilson, Bulbs, (ill. Marjorie Blamey), Collins, 1981
  • Brian Mathew, Crocus: A Revision of the Genus Crocus, Timber Press, 1983. ISBN 0-917304-23-3
  • Brian Mathew, Flowering Bulbs for the garden, Collingridge/Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1987. ISBN 0-600-35175-0

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