Crocus plant is bulbous perennial grass that belongs to iris family (Iridaceae). It is native to Europe, West and Central Asia. Crocus flowers are very impressive and beautiful. Crocuses photos decorate greeting cards, beauty salons are named after the crocus flower, there are also popular tourist routes to the places where crocus (saffron) massively blooms.
Crocus plants usually bloom when other flowers either are not ready to bloom– spring crocus, or already finished blossoming – autumn crocus. These flowers are very popular among floriculturists. After winter is gone crocuses signify spring, and in October they close the season and gladden the eye with their bright colours before long winter. Crocuses are outdoor flowers, but like other bulbous plants they can be forced so that you can have blossoming flowers of crocus (saffron) at home at any season.
Crocus (saffron) is a relatively small (up to 25 cm) bulbous plant, narrow leaves grow right from the corm together with tubular flowers. Crocus flower’s stem and its leaves are covered with transparent plates below. Crocus flower is unisexual with bright corollaceous 6-cleft perianth. Inside the flowers there are snouts with three stamens of bright yellow, orange and red colour. Saffron flower is pollinated by insects. Saffron ovary, from which there will grow ripe a fruit, is formed underground, but with the time the fruit– triangle fruitcase with seeds – is pushed out by the plant to the groud, where saffron seeds ripen and if they are not picked up they are sown by themselves.
Cleistogamous flower of a crocus (saffron) resembles tulip with its form, it can grow up to 12 cm (depending upon species). Crocus flowers can have warm yellow colours or cold blue and purple colours, you can often see white crocuses, too.
Crocus bulbs are edible. You can boil them, bake or cook it in other ways, but the most valuable part of saffron plant is snout. Snouts with stamens are valuable medicine, seasoning and dye that are produced and sold for big money by industrial saffron cultivators. Real saffron spice looks like fragments of threads of reddish-brown colour, it costs not less than 1$ for 1 gr. (saffron is the most expensive spice). And because of its high price it is often faked. It is especially dangerous to buy saffron in form of powder, because you can easily buy tumeric (curcuma) instead of saffron. Tumeric is also good spice, but it costs incomparably cheaper comparing to the king of all spices – saffron.
Spain is the leader in saffron cultivation. The cheapest saffron comes from India or Iran. There is also saffron from Italy, Greece, Turkey. Among ex-USSR countries saffron is cultivated in Azerbaijan, Dagestan and Crimea now.
Dried snouts of saffron (crocus) contain essential oils, calcium, phosphorus, glycosides, vitamins and water-soluble dye crocin. Saffron dye was used in ancient times, long before Christ, for colouring of clothes into bright sunny colours. As a spice for cooking saffron has also been used quite a long time. It has bitterish-spicy taste and fragrant smell. Saffron spice is added to pastry (0,1 gr for 1 kg of pastry) to give them bright yellow colour and light aroma. Saffron is used for meat, fish cooking and for various seafood, rice etc.
Crocus spice is badly combined with other spices and that is why it is used mostly separately. Saffron is used as a spice in a very small quantity. It’s enough to add 3-5 threads of this spice. Saffron overdoses spoil the taste of a dish – it gets unpleasant bitter taste.
You can get tempted to pick snouts from all crocuses that grow in the graden, but it is dangerous. Almost all experts in spices warn about crocus (saffron) – saffron can be easily mixed with meadow saffron (autumn crocus, colchicum, Colchicum autumnale), which is very poisonous. That is why it is safer to buy saffron spice in a shop.
Useful features of saffron are not limited with spices. It is also used as a medicine long ago. Recipes of eastern medicine wouldn’t be complete without saffron. Ancient Jews, Greeks, Romans mentioned in their books saffron many times and not only as a spice and perfect dye for clothes and shoes, but in the first place as a medicine against many diseases.
Ancient people believed that saffron helps to recover after serious illness, strengthens and topes up the body, cleans the blood, improves appetite, it is irreplaceable for curing stomach, liver and heart diseases. At present folk medicine also uses saffron as general health-improving, pain-relieving, anticonvulsant and sudorific drug, as a medicine against cold, helping to expectorate during catarrh of the upper respiratory tract.
Medicine with saffron helps ripening of abscess while festering, it cleans wounds from pus and stimulates scarring. Saffron recipes are very popular among women. Saffron lessens menstrual pain, facilitates postnatal recovery of uterus, cures breast induration during breast-feeding, improves sexual function.
There are many panegyric treatises (and not without reason) in medicine dedicated to saffron, but like the treatment with any other medicine, the treatment with saffron should be done carefully. Expectant mothers and little children should not take it at all, all other people need preliminary doctor’s advice.
At present there are known about 300 crocus species. They all are divided into spring crocuses and autumn crocuses. In inddustry there is cultivated only one species of crocus to get saffron for spice or medicine – it is Crocus sativus. This is autumn saffron, and there is no wild analog of this species.
Crocuses that are planted at home are mostly Dutch hybrids – large-flowered species of crocuses. For example: «Gell», «Grand Maitre», «Vanguard» etc.
In crocus catalogues there are various kinds of crocuses – white crocus (saffron), yellow, gold yellow, purple, two-coloured.
CROCUS. (SAFFRON). PLANTING.
To grow healthy, beautiful flowers you should select quality planting stock. Healthy saffron bulbs, like tulip, hyacinth and narcissus bulbs, should have no signs of mechanical damage or rot. Crocus bulb should have even colour without spots. Bulb plates should be tightly to bulb body. Fundus should have no damages or sprouts.
Depending upon the species and the size of a bulb there can grow one or several flowers from one bulb. Crocus corm can produce up to 5 offshoots in a season. Multipliers are much smaller than parental bulb and they will grow to full-fledged flowers only in a season, when these bulbs will put on weight. In favorable climatic conditions crocuses can grow on one place for several years. Crocuses are propagated quickly and build complete clearings of bright blossoming flowers, but every year the flowers become smaller, because with every season the number of flowers grow, they all require nutrition but the soil is already impoverished.
It is important to find right place for crocuses. Though crocus plants grow in half shadow quite good, they grow better and have bigger flowers on places with much sunlight. The places where water stagnates for long time are not suitable for crocuses. In such conditions the bulb easily rot. This plant is xerophyte and it better tolerates lack of water rather than excess.
Crocus flowers grow well on any cultivated air-penetrable soil. On heavy clya loam you should add some sand , peat, provide drainage in form of sand or fine gravel. On light soils you should add sod soil, humus. Acidic soils should be limed. The soil for planting should be prepared in advance and simultaneously you should add basic fertilizer there.
Spring crocuses are planted in September-October 5-10 cm deep, autumn crocuses should be planted in July-September 8-10 cm deep. Planting depth is approximately equal to 2-3 diameters of a bulb. On heavy grounds you should plant higher, on light soils deeper. The distance between bulbs should be no less than 10 cm.
CROCUS. SAFFRON. CARE.
Crocus planting is not very troublesome. This flower is unpretentious. Crocus is cold-resistant. It tolerates low temperatures up to -180C, but in winter you should better cover it with leaves, fir twigs or peat.
Usually crocus is flowering at the time when the soil has enough water from melting snow and you should not additionally water it. Crocus is xerophyte and when water lacks it just has smaller flowers, but if you want to have full-fledged flowering, you should moderately water crocuses when there’s not enough water in the soil.
For good development and blossoming of crocus (saffron) flowers you should add fertilizer to the soil. Best fertilizer for crocuses is decomposed humus or compost soil (8-10 kg for 1 m2). This fertilizer is usually added while preparing the soil for planting.
During the whole season there should be done several dosings with mineral fertilizers. For the first time you should add fertilizers (phosphorus, potassium) early in spring before the snow melts taking 80-100 g for 1 m2 in the proportion 2:1. When it begins to actively grow and build buds, you should add the same quantity of fertilizers for the second time with the proportion 1:1. During the flowering of crocuses you should add fertilizers for the third time (30-35 g for 1 m2) in the proportion в 1:1.
Some gardeners prefer to digg out bulbs every year and store them in a cellar until next planting. It allows sorting out bulbs, remove weak or sick ones, and as a result to get bigger flowers and keep bulbs from mice that like the bulbs very much.
Croucses are reproducted by daughter bulbs and seeds.
The easier and quicker way of reproduction is reproduction with multipliers. Daughter bulbs arise in axils of plates on a mother corm. After mother corm dies out, it is replaced with a colony of new bulbs that should be planted out so that each plant has enough living space. Please refer to PLANTING section to learn how to plant crocus bulbs.
The seeds are picked up and dried out for a week. Then they are sown not deeper than 1 cm, the distance between seeds is 4-5 cm. The seeds are sown sparcely so that they are not pricked out during the first year of their growth, and this lets the plant form a bulb. The crops begin to blossom during the 3-rd year.
CROCUSES AT HOME.
Planting of crocuses in pots at home (forcing) is fascinating pastime. The aim of the forcing is to get a blossoming crocus plant at home by the fixed date or simply in winter, when it’s still much time until natural blossoming in the garden. Large-flowered spring crocuses of Dutch hybrids better suit for forcing. For forcing a crocus you should select bulbs of the same sort and the same size so that the plants in one pot will have the same length and blossom simultaneously.
The bulbs for forcing are dug out from the ground in August-September if the plant grew outdoors or in spring after the leaves die out if the crocuses blossomed in a pot. After that the bulbs are kept with a room temperature (20-240C) and good ventilation within two weeks. After that they are taken away for storing.
It is not always possible to force a crocus bloom exactly by the fixed date. It depends upon crocus species, the size of a bulb (the bigger the bulb, the faster blooms the crocus), upon external factors (air temperature and lighting), but the approximate time can still be calculated.
To get blossoming flowers for the fixed date the bulbs should have rest with the temperature of +5 – +90С., without planting into the ground. Approximately in three months before anticipated blossoming the bulbs are planted into low earthen saucers with light, neutral, air-penetrated moist soil. The size of an earthen saucer should be so that planted bulbs won’t touch each other and edges of the saucer. The planted crocuses should be again placed in a cold place (+5-+90С.) in cellar, refrigerator or other premise. Within next two (two and a half) months the plant strikes root and sprouts. When the sprouts are 3-5 cm, the saucers with crocuses should be placed into a room with the temperature of 10-150С on a bright place usually on a windowsill. If the temperature is higher, crocuses will grow very quickly and finish blossoming. If there will be lack of light, the sprouts will stretch, the blossoming is weakened. You should water the plant moderately, when the upper layer of the soil will dry out.
Approximately in two weeks after placing them into a room, if the conditions are favorable the crocuses in pots should blossom and blossoming period should last about 2 weeks. After finishing blossoming the crocuses should be further watered until all the leaves die out. Then you should digg out bulbs from the pot and store them and then the whole cycle will repeat. True, the flowers by the second forcing are smaller and weaker.