Spring Crocuses

2016 July 23

Everybody[1] loves spring crocuses[2], because they pop up and bloom first thing in the spring, usually while the snow is still in the process of melting. For us, this means that they bloom around mid-April, but by that time most of the rest of the country has been seeing them for a month or more.


The blossom is the main ID feature for the plants, because they are practically all blossom. The leaves are just thin, grass-like things that blend into the yard and are not really noticeable outside of the blooming season.


The blossoms are initially a narrow cup, that opens out into a bloom that draws whatever pollinating insects might happen to be around that early in the year. The reproductive part of the flower is pretty large, distinct, and bright yellow-orange[3]


[1] Well, almost everybody. As Gilbert and Sullivan put it:
“Tra la, la la la,
tra la, la la la,
oh bother the flowers of Spring”
Although, in this case, context is everything.

[2] There are a bunch of varieties of crocuses, about thirty of which are cultivated, and some of which bloom in the fall. The spring crocuses are the ones that get photographed the most, though. Mostly by winter-weary people who are starved for a hint of color to reappear in the world. If you do a Google search for “crocus”, there are currently just shy of 12 million hits, almost all of which are photos of them. This isn’t as many as better-known flowers like tulips (90 million hits) or roses (500 million hits), but it isn’t bad for a tiny little flower that only blooms for about two weeks in the spring and then disappears.

[3] In fact, the best match for the color is “saffron”. I was going to say that the saffron color of the reproductive parts of the bloom is probably not a coincidence, because saffron is made from parts of the blossoms of one particular crocus species, Crocus sativus. However, while the part about saffron coming from crocuses is true, it turns out that the portion of the blossom that is used for making the spice saffron is actually the threadlike stigmas, which are more of a reddish color. They only become yellow-orange upon processing. It also turns out that the saffron crocus is a domesticated mutant that can no longer set seeds, so the only reason for it to continue having a blossom is to convince us humans to continue propagating it.

One Response
  1. July 24, 2016

    I did not know that about saffron. In the future, I shall use it with more good cheer, knowing it comes from such a lovely flower.

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