Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blooms and Beasts: the crocus.

Now that the snow has melted Mother Nature is looking pretty sharp. Green grass in February? Robins? I hope we’re not being set up for a nasty surprise.

I won’t get my hopes up until I see the first crocus. Don’t you love those? After the blah shades of winter, the bright colors of the crocus are a welcome sight. There are a whole bunch of colors available, but my favorite (for now) is the Crocus sieberi Tricolor. Bright blue, with a white band and yellow throat. What’s not to like?

The crocus isn’t just for looks, either. The stigmas of Crocus sativus produce the popular and pricey spice we call saffron. Not exactly a cost-effective crop, though. You need about 4,000 blooms to come up with one ounce of saffron. Hm, I think I’ll stick to garlic powder.

Instead of a bulb, the crocus grows from a corm, a similar plant structure with scaly, papery skin. Check out your neighborhood in the coming weeks. Look for low-growing, cup-shaped flowers with spiky leaves. You might find a clump or two, or see a whole chunk of lawn covered with them. If you like the look of crocus, you can plan for a fall planting. Just about all crocus are fall planted, spring blooming, except for the saffron crocus. It’s backwards.

Oh, wow. Big surprise. The crocus likes well-drained soil in full sun to light shade. Who doesn’t? Once you’ve chosen your preferred varieties, accounting for different maturation rates for extended blooming time, get the corms into the ground six to eight weeks before the first frost. Loosen and compost the soil to a depth of about twelve inches, and plant the corms four inches deep, pointy-end up. You can also plant them directly into the lawn. Remember to space them about three inches apart, and in groups of twelve for best effect. Water thoroughly after planting, and during dry spells. A layer of mulch is especially helpful in very cold areas.

What's your favorite harbinger of spring?

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that saffron came from crocus. My mother used to plant them in the yard, in a circle. She said, the fairies came there and would dance.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium


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