Tuesday, 9 February 2021


The earliest flowering plants show up in the fossil record 130 million years ago. These beauties became the dominant type of forest plant by about 90 million years ago. One of their number, the genus Crocus, is a particular favourite of mine.

Crocus — the plural of which is crocuses or croci — is a genus of flowering plants in the iris family and includes 90 species of perennials growing from corms. 

A corm is a short, swollen underground plant stem that helps plants survive summer drought and other less favourable conditions. The name Crocus is derived from the Latin adjective crocatus, meaning saffron yellow. The Greek word for "saffron" is krokos, while the Arabic word saffron or zafaran, means yellow. 

Many are cultivated for their flowers appearing in autumn, winter, or spring. The spice saffron is obtained from the stigmas of Crocus sativus, an autumn-blooming species. Each crocus flower plucked gently by hand yields three vivid strands of saffron with an acre of laborious work producing only a few pounds.

The challenge of harvesting saffron from crocus and its high-market value dates back to 2100-1600 BC as the Egyptians, Greeks, and the Minoans of Crete all cultivated crocus not as a spice, but as a dye. 

Roman women used saffron to dye their hair and textiles yellow. The crocus corm has a history of trade throughout Europe that a few pounds of corms served as a loan of gold or jewels. It made it's way into the writing of the Greeks as early as 300 BC where it originated. 

The precious flower travelled to Turkey and then all the way to Great Britain in the 1500s before making their way to the rest of the world. The first crocus in the Netherlands came from corms brought back from the Roman Empire in the 1560s. A few corms were forwarded to Carolus Clusius at the botanical garden in Leiden. By 1620, new garden varieties had been developed, such as the cream-coloured crocus similar to varieties we see in flower markets and local gardens today.