Saffron is the commonplace name for the Crocus sativus plant, a specific species of the Crocus genus and of the wider Iridaceae family. Saffron is likely a word you may have heard before used within the context of culinary use.
The stigmas of the saffron flower are where the saffron spice comes from. Indeed, saffron is the most expensive spice by weight and has been for a long time.
The use and cultivation of saffron date back over 3500+ years ago. The reason saffron is so expensive is because of the arduous and often time-consuming process of extracting it from the plant, as, unlike other spices, you can only harvest the plant’s stigma when in bloom.
Although, beyond the culinary use of the plant, the beauty of the flower is often overlooked and remains eclipsed by the fiscal desire to immediately harvest the flower’s stigma.
Unusually, the plant flowers in the fall, which give it a specific horticultural usage in fall garden beds.
The Crocus is native to a whole host of areas, originally thought to be endemic to Greece the plant has now been found to grow as far east as China and even in Africa. The flowers are often solitary and taper into a tubular shape.
Crocus Tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’
This is a popular cultivar to grow especially during the springs as its flowering period is between February and March and it remains pretty hardy during its growing period.
Moreover, the plant enjoys full sun as well as partial shade and will grow pretty well in most soils, even of poor quality. While the flower looks delicate, the plant can actually stand up pretty well to wind and rain.
Come February, the Crocus will bear some clusters of slender but deep purple to blue flowers which form around the plant’s syndicated orange stamens. The petals display all the shades of purple in one petal and generally tend to get lighter the closer they get to the stamen.
Crocuses generally don’t grow that high, but this also makes them good to display as indoor plants or even use in bouquets.
What’s more, they are great for filling holes in your spring beds with some color that will get you excited for Summer.
Crocus Chrysanthus ‘Advance’
This Crocus species is particularly interesting and has some unique inflorescence caused by genetics.
The flower cups the stamen but has strokes of yellow and purple that advance through the growing process.
What is great about this type of inflorescence that has more than one color is that each flower will be unique, some will have more purple colors, while others may have more cream – each individual flower will have a unique makeup.
‘Advance’ is an apt name as it is often the first plant that will flower around the spring period and is a great way to get some color during the early month of the year.
Crocus Chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’
This cultivar is quite similar to the previously mentioned ‘Advance’ cultivar, it has a similar inflorescence but with different color combinations.
As the name suggests the plant has strokes of white as well as blue and makes up a beautiful springtime palette that looks great next to any flower. This is a great way to get your season started and see the benefits of growing things early in the spring.
The bright orange stamens stand out brightly against the white petals and are truly a springtime spectacle. If you want a nice soft start to your season and save the bold colors for summer, this is a great cultivar to search for.
Crocus Vernus ‘Flower Record’
For those who want to start the season off with some bolder color choices, this is a cultivar to look out for.
This dutch variety blooms a little later than the chrysanthus, its bold colors welcome the March and April months, depending on your climate, but really get the easter vibes going.
The deep purple petals are eye-catching and can be seen from far away, they contrast dramatically with the luminously orange stamens.
This is a great way to bring some pops of color to your flower beds as they transition from the soft colors of spring into the bold and bright colors of summer.
Crocus Vernus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’
This is another dutch variety like the previous, while the name suggests otherwise, and blooms a little later in April and March but does have a little more height than other varieties. This is one for the gardener who wants some strikingly white colors in their garden.
This will really stand out against darker colors, especially those of soil, and is a great way to welcome the spring. The bright orange stamens provide a great contrast to the white petals and have a daisy-like look to them.
Crocus Chrysanthus ‘Orange Monarch’
This is a great cultivar for an easter bouquet or flower bed as its orange colors are bright and also get the eyes ready for the summer colors.
This cultivar is cool as it matches the orange stamen inside the inflorescence so you get a sort of blanket of orange bloom that is really welcoming.
This orange flower does contrast the gloriously green foliage that is saber-like. The combination of these two colors is a winner for springtime and a great way to welcome the early Summer.
Crocus Vernus ‘Pickwick’
This is a particularly interesting and curious crocus variety that has some cool inflorescence thanks to the plant’s variegated petals. The flower generally has a white background with thin strokes of white, although each flower will be slightly different.
This adds a lot of desirable texture to a bed and looks even more striking in combination with the plant’s variegated foliage. In a bed of Crocus, this particular cultivar stands out among other varieties and will draw the eye of the passer-by.
Crocus Vernus ‘Yellow Mammoth’
The name of this cultivar is relatively deceiving but also quite true. The flowers are certainly yellow and this is one of the taller cultivars among other Crocuses but at around 6-7 inches tall it’s certainly no mammoth among other plants.
However, this particular cultivar is a ray of sunshine, literally, as the flower of this plant is a stunning yellow. This cultivar will bring sunshine into your garden just when you need it in spring.
Moreover, this has to be the most easter and spring color of all and looks really striking in the early season. We think this looks great among similarly yellow daffodils to bring some texture to a bed of yellow plants.
Crocus Sativus ‘Autumn Crocus’
We couldn’t leave you without mentioning the original Saffron plant – Crocus sativus. While this plant is relatively hard to get for ornamental purposes, as cultivation of this specific species is now almost purely for the expensive spice of the same name that is extracted from its stamen.
However, the inflorescence of this plant shouldn’t be overlooked and is potentially the most unique among the various species of Crocus.
The flower of this species is much wider and has more spread than the other cultivars, almost inviting you in to harvest the expensive goods that lay with its bright orange stamen. The flowers are a very unique, almost marbled, purple and white color that is just stunning.
This plant is a real treat, if you can find the seeds to grow this plant for ornamental purposes it really will be the showgirl of your garden, and of the spring, and is one to brag about to your green-thumbed friends.
Our Final Word
So, saffron flowers can come in many varieties. ‘Saffron’ is a bit of a misleading term as it refers almost specifically to the Crocus sativus, and trying to grow or find seeds for this is pretty hard as they are locked up tight in the nads of the culinary world and the saffron ‘dealers’ who pride money over horticultural rewards.
However, this isn’t a reason to lose hope, there are many varieties and cultivars of the Crocus genus in general which are a real treat in your garden.
The Crocus is a true spring delight and there’s no better way to prepare your garden for summer than seeing the bold and beautiful colors that the Crocus genus offers us.
The Crocus is used widely in bouquets, beds, and borders, as well as house plants, so get creative with your gardening and show off this amazing early bloomer.
If you wanted to, you could create a bed solely made up of Crocus cultivars, this low bed would be really beautiful and striking for a spring display. Just make sure you don’t live anywhere near deer or other game as certain varieties of Crocus are particularly attractive to eat for them.
Who can blame them, the plant is certainly beautiful, and there is an innocence in the fact they may not know the value of the Crocus sativus that they are chewing on in the hopeful spring sun. But spring will reassure us that they will grow again.
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