Crocus

COMMON NAME:  Crocus
GENUS:  Crocus
Species, Hybrids, Cultivars:
Blue; C. biflorus, C. imperati, C. siebert, C. tomasinianus, C. versicolor; yellow: C. aureus, C. chrysanthus, C. korolkowii, C. sulphureus concolor, C. susianus; white: C. fleischeri, C. laevigatus, C. speciosus {fall}. Dutch crocus cultivars-blue: Enchantress, Pickwick, Queen of the Blues, Remembrance, Striped Beauty; white: Jeanne d’Arc, Peter Pan, Snowstorm; yellow: Golden Yellow, Yellow Mammoth.
FAMILY: Iridaceae
BLOOMS: Winter, spring, fall
TYPE: Perennial
DESCRIPTION: A multitude of crocuses are available today in colors ranging from white to blue, purple, and yellow, and with blooming seasons in late winter, early spring, and autumn. The leaves are linear and grasslike; the blossoms cup-shaped and proportionally large. Winter-blooming varieties generally grow to a height of 3 inches. Spring-and fall-blooming species are usually a bit taller, 4 to 5 inches.
CULTIVATION: Crocuses grow from corms, which should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep in early fall. Crocuses prefer soil that is light, sandy, and not too rich, and they will perform best in full sun or light shade. Do not cut the leaves, but let them die down naturally.

Crocuses are native to Spain, North Africa, and Mediterranean regions and have been known and used for centuries. According to Claire Shaver Haughton’s book  Green Immigrants, a jug decorated with crocuses and dating back to 1500 B.C. was found in Crete. The English Gardener, by Leonard Maeger, reported a scroll from 1552 B.C. listing the medicinal uses of crocus.
Because crocus has been well known and loved by many civilizations, there are many stories about the origin of the plant. According to Greek mythology, Mercury created the flower from Crocus, Europa’s son whom Mercury accidentally killed. In another Greek legend, Crocus was a youth who fell in love with Smilax, who rejected him. Crocus was distraught and begged the gods to help him. The gods, taking pity on him, changed him into the lovely crocus plant. At this point, Crocus turned fickle, for he won the love of Smilax but then rejected her, and the gods turned her into a yew.
The oldest cultivated crocus is C, sativus, which is the source of the herb saffron. The Mongols are said to have carried this plant to China. The first record of crocus coming to England was in the sixteenth century when it arrived in the Elizabethan court from the Mideast. It became quite popular there and was mentioned by Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and the herbalist John Gerard.
A dye made from the stigmas of crocus was quite valuable, and golden cloth dyed with crocus was worn by wealthy aristocrats in both Europe and the Orient. King Henry VIII of England outlawed sheets dyed with saffron. His reasoning was that dyed sheets were not washed as often as white ones, and thus presented a health hazard.
The genus name, Crocus, is from the Greek word Krokos, which means “thread” and refers to the stigmas {the tips of the pistils on which pollen is deposited during pollination}, particularly those of the saffron crocus. Saffron, which is collected from the stigmas of C. Sativa, has been and still is, quite valuable product. In 1983, the price of saffron was $4.59 for 1/40 of an ounce. This works out to be a little less than $3,000 per pound. It has been estimated, however, that it takes over 4,000 crocus blossoms to make up an ounce of saffron.
crocus-stimsIn addition to being used as a cooking herb, saffron has been used in perfumes, as medicine, and as a magical herb in certain religious rites. Many of the medicinal uses of saffron are somewhat questionable. Take, for example, the English custom of eating crocus seeds to help rheumatism on the right side of the body only. If drunk in beer, saffron was thought to strengthen teeth. The Roman statesman and writer Pliny suggested that if saffron was worn around the neck, it would dispel the odors of wine and prevent drunkenness. Because the Greek poet Homer wrote that crocus was used to make the marriage bed of Zeus and Hera, Greeks used crocus petals to decorate their own marriage beds and to strew throughout banquet halls and in fountains.
Saffron tea is still listed in some herbals as being useful in breaking a fever and is sometimes recommended for treating measles victims.
According to the Victorian language of flowers, crocus was a symbol of youthful gladness. Crocus has also been considered a symbol of mirth, perhaps because of the superstition that crocus creates merriment and causes much laughter. Crocus was also thought to inspire love and was often sent to lovers.

An Austrian superstition held that it was unlucky to pick crocus blossoms because it would draw away your strength and make you weak.

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