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Crocus sativus (photo courtesy of Thomas J. Story)
Crocus sativus (photo courtesy of Thomas J. Story)

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Zones 1-24
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Moderate

Crocus sativus

Saffron Crocus
Iridaceae
Bulbs and bulblike plants, Herbs, Perennials, Flowers

CROCUS

Low growers, mainly from the Mediterranean region and the Caucasus. All have grasslike leaves, often with a silvery midrib; foliage comes before, with, or after flowers, depending on the species. Flowers come in a wide range of colors and are 1 1/2–3 in. long, with long, stemlike tubes and flaring or cup-shaped petals; the short (true) stems are hidden underground.

Most crocuses bloom in winter or earliest spring, but some bloom in fall, the flowers rising from bare earth weeks or days after planting. Mass them for best effect. Attractive in rock gardens, between steppingstones, and in containers.

All need six weeks of temperatures below 45°F to initiate flower formation; if your area doesn’t supply it, put bulbs in the refrigerator for 6 weeks before planting. Annuals anywhere.

Set corms 2–3 in. deep and 3–4 in. apart, in light, porous soil. Protect from gophers. Divide every 3 or 4 years. Won’t naturalize where winters are warm.

Crocus sativus

Lilac flowers in fall. Orange-red stigma is the true saffron of commerce. To harvest saffron, pluck stigmas as soon as flowers open, dry them, and store in glass or plastic vials. Stigmas from a dozen flowers will season a good-size paella or similar dish. For continued good yield of saffron, divide corms as soon as leaves turn brown; replant in fresh or improved soil.

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