DESCRIPTION: This group consists of about 80 species of hardy corms (as well as many forms or varieties), which bloom in fall, winter and early spring. They bloom so early in the spring they are often seen poking up through the snow. Crocuses grow wild in the Mediterranean region and continue into southwest Asia. These beautiful flowers are a great accent for any area. They can be planted as houseplants, in rock gardens, woodland gardens, meadows, and yards. Their cup-shaped flowers come in a large range of vivid colors including white and gold, many shades of purple and blue, as well as multi-colored. Their thin, dainty, grass-like leaves grow from 4 to 7 inches long and depending on the species, grow at the same time, before or after the blossoms. In ideal conditions, Crocuses will spread into large clumps creating a carpet of brilliant color. One variety, C. sativus, is grown for its spice called Saffron, which is used to color and flavor food (mainly rice dishes). Their long, crimson stigmas (female part of the flower) are the source of Saffron. The stigmas are picked and dried to make this flavorful and costly spice. Saffron is expensive because of the work it takes to produce it. It takes as many as 4,000 flowers to produce one ounce. Saffron has a sweetish, aromatic odor and slightly pungent flavor. This plant is a native of Greece, Asia Minor and adjacent countries and has been cultivated for its dye since ancient times. There is indication that this plant was grown in Palestine in the time of Solomon for saffron. It is hardly used now for textiles, but it still has considerable use in confectionery and other minor purposes. It is mainly obtained from Spain, southern France, Italy and Greece.
POTTING: Crocuses will flourish in regular garden soil in zones 3 to 7. Leaf mold or compost (not animal manure) should be mixed into the soil when preparing for them. They will thrive in soil that has adequate drainage so plenty of grit should be added if the soil is heavy. Spring-blooming Crocuses should be planted in the fall and fall-blooming Crocuses in early fall. Set the corms 5 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches apart in the garden or 1-inch deep with 7 to 9 corms in a 5-inch container. Where squirrels are a problem, plant the corms a bit deeper, firm the soil, water well, and cover with about 2 inches of chopped autumn leaves immediately after planting. Squirrels will rarely bother the corms once they are well established. When planting in a lawn, use a trowel with a narrow blade and stab through the grass to make a hole where a corm will be inserted. To plant a small patch, lift up a square of turf, fork in a little compost and plant the corms in the soil. Replace the turf patch and tamp it down well with your foot. The bulbs can also be arranged in a large, enchanting ring. After planting, water well. Crocuses should be grown in sun or light shade, although they will show their full beauty in full sun. Crocus flowers open widely on sunny days and close up when the weather is cold or cloudy.
PROPAGATION: Once the leaves have died down, the corms can be lifted and separated for replanting. Seeds may also be sown in pots of sandy soil in the fall and placed in a cold frame. The seedlings grow very slowly, however, and will not bloom for several years.
SPECIES & VARIETIES:
Spring flowering: These are two popular types - C. chrysanthus (Snow Crocus); C. vernus & hybrids (Dutch or Giant Crocus). Some of C. vernus's hybrids will be mentioned at the end of the list. Other spring bloomers - C. aureus, golden yellow; C. biflorus (Scotch Crocus), white to lilac; C. susianus (Cloth of Gold), golden yellow, outer petals striped w/ brown; C. Tomasinianus, pale lavender & silvery gray - self sown seedlings of this Crocus are common & it's one of the best for planting in grass; C. versicolor (Cloth of Silver), white feathered w/ ruby-purple; C. versicolor violacea, white striped w/ purple.
Autumn flowering: C. sativus, (Saffron Crocus), purplish-violet w/ orange stigmata; C. speciosus, rich lilac blue veined w/ purple; C. goulimyi, pale purple; C. longiflorus, rosy-lilac; C. medius, violet; C. ochroleucus, cream white w/ orange base; C. Salzmannii, lilac w/ dark featherings; C. hyemalis, silvery white w/ black lines; C. zonatus, lilac-rose w/ yellow center.
Winter flowering: 'Blue Beauty', pastel blue; 'E.A. Bowles', chrome yellow; 'Moonlight', creamy yellow; 'Snow Bunting', ivory; 'Zwanenburg', cream & bronze; C. hyemalis, silver white w/ black lines; C. Imperati, violet & outer petals fawn & feathered w/ black, fragrant; C. Sieberi, lavender-blue w/ golden-yellow base.
Varieties of the common Crocus, C. vernus, are used for flower beds, borders, window boxes & for naturalizing in grass. They look gorgeous when planted according to their colors rather than mixed. The large flowered named varieties should be used for bowls & pots in greenhouses or homes & for flower borders. These are some of the best: Bleu Celeste, pale blue; Edina, white striped & stained w/ lavender; Hero, purple; Kathleen Parlow, white; Margot, pale lavender veined w/ lilac; Pallas, white striped w/ lilac; President Lincoln, dark purple; purpureus grandiflorurs, deep purple; and Golden Yellow.
Go see DICTIONARY OF BOTANICAL NAMES.
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