Crocuses

Early Crocus Early Crocus Spring Crocus Hybrid Crocus

What are they?

Crocuses are in the Iris family and have long been popular as garden plants in the UK for their early spring flowering and bright, cheerful colours. None of the true crocuses are native here, with most originating from SE Europe and Asia Minor. This page also includes the meadow saffrons, which are at first glance very similar to crocuses. Meadow saffrons are in the family Colchicaceae and, like crocuses, are plants that survive as underground bulbs.

Where are they found?

The popularity of crocuses means that they are widely planted in almost any open, grassy habitats. They are particularly common in churchyards, parks and along mown, grassy strips beside urban and suburban roadways. Meadow saffrons are typically found in grassy places, including ancient meadows as well as roadsides and grassy banks.

Identification

Because of a long history of horticultural hybridisation and selection which has produced a bewildering number of forms, identification of some crocuses can be difficult. The colour of petals and the lower petal tube is important and, for some species, details of the underground corm are required. You should also note the relative lengths of the stigmas and stamens. Meadow Saffrons differ from crocuses in having six orange stamens in each flower, where crocuses only have three. Meadow Saffrons are autumn-flowering and produce relatively large, coarse leaves in spring.



Spring Crocus      Crocus neapolitanus

Introduced from Southern Europe and by far the most common species in all its various colours. Found in grassy places, especially churchyards, village greens, urban roadsides and similar places. Flowers late February to April; petals may be white, purple, or lilac with darker stripes, but almost always with a purplish petal tube at the flower base. Flowers are relatively large compared to other crocuses. Recently, the plants known in cultivation as Crocus vernus were re-assessed and some name changes were made. Most of the chunky, large-flowered crocuses that are seen widely in parks and gardens now come under Crocus neapolitanus, which has the feathery stigmas equal in length or longer than the three stamens.

Spring Crocus Spring Crocus Spring Crocus Spring Crocus
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Stigmas longer than stamens


Early Crocus      Crocus tommasinianus

Introduced from SE Europe. Widespread in shady corners of parks, cemeteries and churchyards. Flowers late February to early April; petals pale purple or lilac with a long, narrow, white petal tube at the flower base. This plant naturalises readily and is the species most often seen in extensive, carpeting colonies. Leaves narrower than those of Spring Crocus.

Early Crocus Early Crocus Early Crocus Early Crocus
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Yellow Crocus      Crocus x luteus (Crocus x stellaris )

A hybrid of cultivation as the two parents do not naturally grow together. Commonly planted in gardens, parks, cemeteries and churchyards and often found as a garden throw-out or surviving where originally planted. Flowers late February to April; petals almost startling, golden yellow, with or without brownish-purple smudges and veins at the base. Widely planted in mixed groups with colour forms of Spring Crocus, especially the form known as 'Dutch Yellow'. Larger and fuller-flowered than other yellow crocuses. Some plants closely resemble Golden Crocus (see below); the two can be separated by the outer covering of the corm which, in Yellow Crocus, splits vertically.

Early Crocus Early Crocus Early Crocus Early Crocus
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Golden Crocus      Crocus chrysanthus

Native of SE Europe and Turkey. Occasionally planted in gardens, parks, cemeteries and churchyards and rarely found as a garden throw-out or surviving where originally planted. Flowers March to April; petals bright yellow, with varying amounts of brownish smudges and veins at the base. Smaller in all parts than Yellow Crocus. Many plants resembling this species are likely to be horticultural hybrids with Silvery Crocus and come under Yellow Crocus (see above). The two can be separated by the outer covering of the corm which, in Golden Crocus, splits horizontally at the base.

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Hybrid Crocus      Crocus x hybridus

Horticultural origin. Widely planted in gardens, parks, cemeteries and churchyards and occasionally found as a garden throw-out or surviving where originally planted. Flowers March to April; petals usually pale yellowish buff or purplish-white, often with varying amounts of purplish smudges and veins at the base. Smaller in all parts than other hybrid crocuses with many named varieties. Flowers often have a broader, goblet-shaped look to them than the larger varieties and species.

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Autumn Crocus      Crocus nudiflorus

Native of SW Europe and rarely planted and escaping into the wider countryside. Flowers September to October. Old records exist for East Anglia but a number of species crocuses have been superceded in popularity by modern hybrids and cultivars and may now be more or less gone from the region.

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Meadow Saffron     Colchicum autumnale

Native in western England and parts of Wales but introduced in East Anglia. Long-established in grassy meadows, where it often benefits from the conservation of other species; also occasionally as a garden throw-out, though such plants may often be horticultural cultivars that perhaps involve more than one species. Flowers September to October. Superficially like an autumn crocus - and often called one! On closer inspection, note the chequered pattern to the petals and the six, rather than three, stamens. Leaves appear in spring but are gone before flowering time; they are much larger and broader than those of crocuses.

Meadow Saffron Meadow Saffron Meadow Saffron Meadow Saffron
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