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Crocus sp. L. 1753
pronounced: KROH-kuss species
(Iridaceae – the Iris family)
common name: Crocus
There are around 80 species of crocus, their natural distribution range extending from central Europe to northern Africa and central Asia. I have not been able to discover which species the plants in the photographs belong to: they are often planted locally by landscapers, and these grow in the garden beds in front of the Dunoon development in Picnic Bay.
All of the crocus species grow from corms, and are low-growing, herbaceous, lily-like perennials. They produce dainty goblet-shaped blooms, which, depending on the species, are either accompanied by, or followed by, wispy grass-like foliage. Heads of up to about 4 blooms are carried on short stems, with each of the 6-segmented flowers bearing a conspicuous divided style at the centre. Flower colour ranges from white and yellow to any shade from lavender to purple. The ovary that forms the fruit is located at the base of the floral tube; seeds develop in the 3-celled capsular fruits.
As was mentioned earlier, the Greeks (and later the Romans) used the same word, crocus, to name both the plant and the saffron produced from Crocus sativus. This species sends up upright, spiky lavender-coloured blossoms with 3 long red stigmas in the centre of the flower: these stigmas are the highly sought after saffron strands. These should be harvested in the morning when the flowers have fully opened. They should be carefully removed from the flower with tweezers and dried in a dehydrator or in a warm dark place. They should be given plenty of time to dry thoroughly, and then should be stored in a dark, tightly capped container.
As well as its use in curries and traditional rice dishes, saffron can be used in meat and fish recipes, as well as in soups, breads and cakes. It makes a relaxing addition to tea, and can help settle an upset stomach. A dozen or so corms of Crocus sativus should provide ample saffron for an average family, and can help create memorable meals at a fraction of the cost of this expensive spice bought in shops.
Historically, saffron was also used as a fabric dye, a hair dye, an aphrodisiac, and as an ingredient in perfume.
Crocus prefers a position offering full sun to light shade; it is very hardy, and easy to grow. It does need good drainage to prevent rotting of the corms, and the leaves should not be removed until they have fully died off. Propagation, although it can be done from seeds, is more usually done by dividing the corms. This should be done, in any case, or at least the corms should be thinned out, at least every 5 or 6 years.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2014
Page last updated 3rd November 2016