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, especially spring forms. The colour of petals and the lower petal tube is important (check both inside and outside colour) and, for some species, details of the underground corm are required. You should also note the relative lengths of the stigmas and stamens and the colour of the 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. Note that many of the autumn-flowering species were popular in the past but are not grown so much now and may gradually dwindle away from our landscapes over time.



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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Flower
Flowers
Stigmas longer than stamens


White Crocus      Crocus vernus

Introduced from Southern Europe. Of uncertain status in East Anglia after a recent change in taxonomy and a split from Crocus neapolitanus but possibly present in grassy places, especially churchyards, village greens, urban roadsides and similar places. Flowers late February to April; petals white with a purplish wash to the petal tube. Flowers are relatively large compared to other crocuses. Differs from white forms of Spring Crocus in its feathery stigmas being shorter than the three stamens.

White Crocus White Crocus White Crocus White Crocus
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Stigmas shorter 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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Flower tube
Corm covering splits
vertically


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.

Golden Crocus Golden Crocus Golden Crocus Golden Crocus
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Flower centre
Corm covering splits
horizontally


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.

Hybrid Crocus Hybrid Crocus Hybrid Crocus Hybrid Crocus
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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. Throat of flower white to pale purple; petals fairly uniform without extensive dark veins; anthers yellow. Corm with fibrous covering not splitting into rings. Currently recorded only from a single location in Suffolk.


Autumn Crocus
Flower


Bieberstein's Crocus      Crocus speciosus

Native of SW Asia and rarely planted and escaping into the wider countryside. Flowers September to October. Throat of flower pale yellow; petals with extensive dark veins; anthers orange. Corm with fibrous covering splitting into rings. Currently recorded from two locations in Suffolk where small colonies have been known for many years.


Bieberstein's Crocus Bieberstein's Crocus Bieberstein's Crocus Bieberstein's Crocus
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Flower outside
Flower inside
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Hairy Crocus      Crocus pulchellus

Native of SE Europe and Turkey and rarely planted and escaping into the wider countryside. Flowers September to October. Throat of flower deep yellow; white to pale lilac petals with darker veins; anthers cream-coloured with densely hairy filaments. Corm with fibrous covering splitting into rings. Currently recorded from two locations in Suffolk where small colonies have been known for many years.


Hairy Crocus Hairy Crocus Hairy Crocus Hairy Crocus
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Flower outside
Flower inside
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Kotschy's Crocus      Crocus kotschyanus

Native of Turkey and rarely planted and escaping into the wider countryside. Flowers September to October. Throat of flower white with yellow blotches; white to pale lilac petals with darker veins; anthers cream-coloured with hairless or only lightly hairy filaments. Corms irregular in shape and with fibrous covering not splitting into rings. Currently recorded from two locations in Suffolk where colonies have been known for many years.


Kotschy's Crocus Kotschy's Crocus
Leaves
Corm


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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Meadow Saffron Meadow Saffron Meadow Saffron
Six stamens
Petal detail
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