Crocus (Crocinia) are a type of evergreen shrub or small tree native to tropical regions such as Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. They have been cultivated for their flowers since ancient times. Crocuses were originally used as ornamental plants but they became popular in Europe during the Renaissance period due to their beauty and fragrant flowers. Today they are grown mainly for their beautiful blooms which attract butterflies and bees.
The name “crocus” comes from the Greek word krokos meaning flower and the Latin word cœrus meaning wildflower.
Crocus are a group of evergreen trees with glossy green leaves and showy white flowers. Their common names include: star-of-the-sea, bluebell, jasmine, lily of the valley, rosemary and sweetbay. Some species are known as sea pansies because they bloom in water.
They are native to tropical areas of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. There are several subspecies of crocus including the African crocus (C. pumila), the Asian crocus (C. angustifolia) and the American crocus (C.
argyrosperma). All species have similar characteristics except for coloration and shape of their flowers, which vary among them.
The most common type of crocus is the spring crocus (C. vernus), which is native to central and southern Europe. It typically blooms between April and May. Its flowers are usually yellow but can also be orange or purple and they have a spicy fragrance.
The autumn crocus (C. speciosus) blooms in September and October and is native to eastern and central Europe. Its flowers are usually purple, pink, red or white.
The daffodil (Narcissus) is a type of crocus, although it is not part of the crocus genus (Crocuses are in the Iridaceae family and daffodils are in the Amaryllidaceae family). Its flowers resemble those of the crocus but are typically larger.
Crocuses grow best in full or partial sunlight and fertile, well-drained soil. They thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8.
Crocuses require only minimal maintenance but are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases.
Types of crocuses:
Autumn crocus (C. speciosus) Native to Eastern and Central Europe, this fast-growing bulb grows up to 16 inches (40 cm) tall. It produces attractive flowers in shades of purple, pink, red or white between September and October.
Common or spring crocus (C. vernus) Native to southern Europe, this crocus can reach heights of up to 16 inches (40 cm). It has delicate, fragrant flowers that come in shades of yellow, orange, brown or purple.
Star-of-the-sea (C. hieracifolius) Native to the coasts of central and southern California, this short type of crocus grows up to 8 inches (20 cm). It has flowers that come in shades of white, purple, pink or blue.
Crocuses have been grown and admired since ancient times. They are thought to have been introduced to Europe in the 15th century BC when the Egyptians brought them to Greece. From there, they spread throughout the Mediterranean region and were popular with the ancient Romans. In fact, crocuses are mentioned in the writings of Pliny the Elder.
They became even more popular after being brought to England in the 1500s.
In Holland, demand for crocuses was so great that by 1606, the Dutch were sending expeditionary parties to Turkey and other parts of Asia to gather them for sale in Europe. These expeditions were not without peril; battles were even fought over who would have the rights to harvest them.
In the 1700s, Dutch breeding experiments with crocuses produced a range of colors and sizes that far surpassed those of the original species. This experimentation continued into the 1800s, when German and French breeders created more hybrids that could be grown in cooler climates. Today, there are more than 40 varieties of crocuses available in the United States alone.
How to grow:
Crocuses are easy to grow and can be planted in the fall or early spring. They can be planted either by scattering the seeds on the ground and lightly tamping them in or by planting them in individual pots and placing these pots three to six inches deep. They need minimal maintenance once they have grown.
They can be planted in full sun or partial shade but will still grow if planted in full shade. They can tolerate most types of soil as long as it is not too wet and has adequate drainage. They are also very cold-hardy, growing wild in USDA zones 3 through 9.
Once mature, crocuses can produce 15,000 to 20,000 seeds per plant. These seeds can be harvested and stored for future plantings.
In addition to the original spring blooming c. vernus, there are also autumn flowering c. speciosus, star-of-the-sea c. hieracifolius and several hybrids, including ‘Miss Joachim’, which blooms in late fall and produces dark pink flowers.
Crocuses are popular ornamental flowers used in a variety of settings. They are often planted in groups in people’s yards and used to create colorful, if short-lived, carpets of color. They are also used in flower beds, borders, rock gardens and among shrubs.
C. speciosus is also used as a source of edible flour and in Oriental medicine. The florets and stamens are dried and steeped in alcohol to make a calming remedy for nervousness and insomnia.
The cultivation of Crocus c. vernus is difficult because the corms are very susceptible to fungal disease. One method of growing these plants is known as the “dutch method”, which involves growing them in small pots (5 cm diameter) and then transplanting them after they have grown, to avoid infection. This method takes up a lot of space but can be effective.
If c. vernus is grown from seed, it needs to be planted four to six weeks before the last expected frost and requires a lot of light.
The flowers only last one day but can be dried. They are the most expensive spring crop to cultivate, due to their rarity.
Cultivation in containers:
Containers should have drainage holes and be made from a non-rusting material (i.e. plastic or terra cotta). The size of container should be at least 12 inches in diameter.
Crocuses like loose, fertile, well-drained soil. A mixture of two parts peat moss, three parts potting soil and one part coarse sand makes good growing medium.
Plant pests include slugs and aphids.
Fungal diseases can be a problem. Crocus plants are very susceptible to infected corms. Provide proper spacing (at least 6 inches apart) to promote good airflow around the plants and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Always use fresh, sterilized soil.
Do not over water and avoid water-logged soils, which encourage rot.
Crocuses can be harvested after the leafs have died back (usually in late spring to early summer). Lift and divide clumps, taking care to remove all the soil. Take care not to damage the corms. Clean by wiping off excess soil and place them somewhere dry until you’re ready to use them.
If you have a large crop, you can dry them out completely and then store in paper bags away from heat or light. Use within one year.
Common varieties of Crocus c. vernus:
Crocuses can be divided into three categories: Florist’s Crocuses, Exhibition Crocuses and Garden Crocuses. They are further divided by color with each division reaching maturity in succession (i.e. purple types will all bloom within a few weeks of each other).
These groups are not exact and many crocuses, especially the hybrid cultivars are difficult to categorize. If you have a favorite variety, make sure you plant enough of it to ensure continuity!
These varieties are grown for their ornamental value and are not capable of reproduction. They typically have four or five petals (although some have six or three) and striking colors (including white, purple, yellow and blue). Exhibition varieties are the first to bloom (mid to late February).
These varieties have more petals than the exhibition types, but not as many as the garden types. They typically have three or six petals and striking colors (including white, purple, yellow and blue). Ornamental varieties usually bloom before the garden types (mid to late February).
These varieties are the most commonly grown for their flowers and can be divided into two groups: Dutch and French. Dutch crocuses (which include the rare C. sativus) have three petals and tend to bloom later in the season (usually March). They have been cultivated for centuries in Holland and are often used as a cut flower.
French crocuses (which include C. porraceus, C. speciosus and C. telephium) have six petals and can be either single or double blooming. They typically bloom earlier in the season (by mid February).
From American Nurseryman, “Crocuses–The Easily Overlooked Spring Flower”, October 1996.
Light: Crocuses require full sun. If planted in the shade, they will produce poorly and may not bloom at all. If your crocuses fail to flower, try transplanting them to a sunnier spot.
Soil: For best results, use a light, fertile soil. Crocuses grow best in well-drained, sandy loam with plenty of humus added. Avoid low areas where water lingers. Prepare a new bed at least a year in advance to give the soil time to improve.
Work in 3-6 inches of well-rotted manure and compost and rake the bed very fine.
Water: Crocuses like evenly moist soil, but don’t like their feet wet. If the soil is dry on top just once, your crocuses may turn yellow and begin to wilt. If this happens, immediately water the soil until it is evenly moist. To make watering easier, either layout your crocuses on a solid bed of mulch or sink a containerized plant container to the top of its rim (this will keep the crocuses out of any standing water that may accumulate).
Planting: Plant your corms as soon as you can get your hands on them. Choose a sunny spot and dig a shallow trench about 6 inches deep. Place the corms in it with the “noses” pointing roughly north. Cover them up, firming the soil well around their “bases”.
Keep the bed well watered until they sprout, which may take a couple of weeks. After that, water as needed. Fertilize weekly with a balanced fertilizer.
Problems: Crocuses are generally very easy to grow and rarely suffer from disease or insect attack.
Harvest: Do not cut the stems of the crocuses, but carefully pull them out of the ground instead. If the stalks are left in the ground they will naturally disintegrate and return their nutrients to the soil. Once they have all been harvested, allow the bed to rest for a year before replanting. Spread some finished compost over the bed before replanting.
It is best to replant crocuses about two weeks (or more) after the average date of your last frost in spring.
C onvallaria majalis
Lily of the Valley
Photo: David Rolston Photo: David Rolston
Common Names: Lily of the valley, March Lily, Mary’s Tears
Brief History: This plant was named after it’s bell-shaped flowers that cluster around its stem. It was said to be the tears of the Virgin Mary. It is native to North America and can be found in all parts of the continent.
Description: This plant has a short stem, with three leaves that sit close to it. The flowers are bell-shaped and droop. They have six white petals and are surrounded by three green sepals. The fruit is a round capsule containing black seeds.
It flowers from May until June.
Harvesting: The leaves, flowers and roots can all be used for medical purposes. Harvest them when the plant first comes into flower. Dry the plant or use it fresh. Gather only what you need so as to preserve the plant for future years.
Externally, a poultice of the dried leaves has been used in the treatment of warts and corns.
The fresh flowers, when rubbed on the skin, have been known to relieve the pain of sunburns.
The petals, when infused in water, will help relieve the symptoms of hayfever and angina.
The leaves can be infused to make a very tasty tea that settles the stomach and eases anxiety. It has also been used to reduce fevers.
The roots may be powdered and taken orally in the treatment of diabetes.
Photo: Ejjohns Prunella vulgarisPhoto: Ejjohns
Common Names: Heal All, self heal, sicklewort, leather weed, old mans weed, slavish, men’s heal all, devil’s gut, flixweed and throatwort.
Brief History: This is an ancient plant that was well known to the Anglo-Saxons. It has been found in the grave of a Roman soldier and is known to have been used as a herbal remedy by the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was also mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Leechbooks. It has long been popular with country folk as it is one of the few plants that will grow just about anywhere.
Description: This plant has a very distinctive appearance, its leaves looking a little like a sword or dagger when cut across. They are situated on long stalks that come out of the ground and its flowers are pink and very tiny. It has been used as a symbol for the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew.
Common Variations: There is only one species of this plant.
Harvesting: Pick the leaves and stalks when you need them, usually before the plant flowers during June. Dry them or use them fresh.
Healing Properties: This herb is antiseptic, astringent, vulnerary and antibiotic and is used mainly in treating wounds, ulcers and sores. It is also thought to be good for the lymphatic system.
Externally, it can be used as a wash for cuts, sores, scalds and burns. It can also be used as a gargle for swollen glands, mouth sores throat or toothache.
Internally, it may be used to treat infections such as tonsillitis or a sore throat. It is also thought to be of value in the treatment of lymphatic problems such as swollen glands or chapped skin. It has been used to treat venereal disease, malaria and even help with the symptoms of diabetes.
Side Effects: Unknown.
Other names: St. Johns Wort, Klamath weed, blackwort, haymaids joy, girtfller, hypericum, goat weed, hajelmerwurt, halsummerwurt, haidamast, hood unwurt, holy wilge, roi de sauge, carpenter’s herb, goatweed, humbug plant, rotsensla, heidenrode and niggerweed.
Brief History: This is a very common plant that is found in most parts of the world and has been known for centuries. It has long been thought to have magical powers and was used by the Romans in order to locate buried treasure. It was also used as a cure-all medicine and was carried by soldiers during the Roman invasion of Britain in order to heal wounds. It was also popular amongst the Anglo-Saxons who used it as a healing plant.
It was often called Herba Militaris, or Soldiers Herb.
The name St. John’s Wort comes from the tradition that it blooms around the time of St. John’s day on the 24th of June and as this is also the birthday of John the Baptist, it was thought that the plant had some sort of link to him and thus acquired its common name.
It was also believed that if you picked the flowers of St. John’s wort and sat amongst them, you would not get a suntan. This made it a favorite past-time for the aristocracy in England to go out and sit in the flowers, until the trend was ended by the arrival of sunburn.
Description: The plant has a yellow dye and is cultivated in northern Europe for its fiber which is used in rope making. This oil also contains thujone, which can cause hallucinations and delirium if taken in large enough amounts. These days it is mainly used in a mixture with other oils and is thought to help healing.
Common Variations: The fiber is sometimes harvested from the related S.multiflorum.
Harvesting: The leaves can be picked at any time of the year, though they are most common between April and October.
Healing Properties: This herb is antispasmodic, antiseptic, astringent, emmenagogue, hypotensive, sedative and a. It is used mainly to treat wounds, ulcers and sores and thought to be of value in treating vaginal discharges and bleeding. It can also be used in the treatment of tuberculosis, inflammation and fevers. Externally it can be used as a wash for burns and sores.
It is also diuretic, laxative and tonic. It is used in the treatment of skin diseases, as well as being of value in treating certain glandular problems such as swollen lymph nodes. It is also said to be of use in treating gallstones and kidney stones. It is also used to increase milk flow in nursing mothers.
It is also an antidepressant, antianxiety, antipanic, sedative, and hypnotic. It is used mainly to treat anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, nervousness, restlessness and to relieve tension. It is also thought to be of use in treating certain types of headaches, including migraines.
Miscellaneous: St. John’s Wort is unique in that it has long been used for medicinal and recreational purposes, as well as being of great religious importance. It is thought to ward off evil spirits and ghosts and as such was often hung on doors or placed in houses and barns to keep evil spirits at bay. It was also woven into garlands and worn by young women to attract suitors.
This property lead to its other name of “Maidens Blossom”. In addition the flowers are used in the production of a golden-yellow dye.
It is native to Europe but has become naturalized in parts of North America. It is found growing wild in open fields, on roadsides and in abandoned fields. It is a herbaceous perennial plant which grows to a height of between 30 to 90 cm, with spindle-shaped, yellowish green stem. The plant has a thick, dark system of roots which creep among the soil.
The stems generally do not branch but are able to produce side shoots. The leaves are opposite, broad oar-shaped, and between 4 to 8 cm long.
The flowers which blossom from May to September are bright yellow and grow in a dense cluster in the axils of the leaves. The flowers have five petals, are 2 to 3 cm across and have five sepals. They are produced in a thick, knobby cluster and have a thick, hairy stalk.
St. John’s worts is likely to be found growing anywhere in the British Isles, especially on waste ground and along roadsides. It prefers moist soil and can be quite common in damp forests and in marshy areas by streams and rivers. The flowers bloom from late spring to late summer.
Both the flowers and leaves are used to produce the medicine and are only used when in flower. The flowers are picked just before they open or when fully open, though in the latter case they soon drop off. They must be dried quickly to prevent rot setting in and lose their colour when dried. The dark green leaves can be picked at any time of the year but must also be dried quickly for the same reasons.
The plant itself is very poisonous and caution should always be employed when handling it. The active ingredients can cause dermatitis in some people.
St. John’s Wort is taken in the treatment of the following conditions: anxiety, nervousness and restlessness; general debility and weakness; premenstrual tension and mild depression.
Preparation and dosage: The dried flowers are boiled in water for 10 minutes and left to stand for 12 hours. This liquid is then strained off and drunk three times daily. This should be followed up with a further drink prepared by boiling 1 teaspoon of fresh St. John’s Wort flowers in a cup of water for 10 minutes.
This is drunk three times daily.
Note: Do not take it in conjunction with antidepressant medication without medical supervision.
Other Species Used: There are many species of the Hypericum genus, though only a few are used medicinally or for their ornamental value. H. abrotanum or northern burt weed is used for nervousness, anxiety and irritability. H.
columbianum or golden seal is used for minor skin complaints. H. quadrangulatum or running swamp milkweed is used for inflammations and irritations.
Description: Also known as Common Sage, this plant has thick, spiky blue-green leaves, square stems and flowers in dense purple bunches shaped like an elongated urn. It grows to a height of about 1 metre.
Location: Sage is native to the Mediterranean region but is now grown extensively in dry, open places throughout Europe and in the eastern USA.
Parts Used: The leaves and flowering stems are used medicinally, the latter being most useful for their colour in treating deficient conditions.
It has been cultivated for so long that its original habitat is uncertain. Theophrastus refers to it growing wild on the coast of Attica but Dioscorides states that it came from Syria and De Candolle believes it came from the Canary Islands. It has been grown in England since the 16th century and is often found in cottage gardens. However, it thrives best on poor soil.
Cultivation: Sow seeds, root cuttings or divide roots in the autumn in a sunny dry spot. Sage requires little attention but you can have more by cutting back after flowering and harvesting the leaves for drying.
Part Used Medicinally: The leaves and flowering stems are used medicinally, the latter being most useful for their colour in treating deficient conditions.
The plant is dried or, less frequently, the fresh leaves are used. It has a bitter flavour and a strong scent. Its oils evaporate readily and so it should be stored in airtight containers out of direct sunlight.
Salvia is a good insect repellent.
Psychologically, it is useful in treating depression and introversion as well as nerve pain. It can also be useful in treating headaches, especially those attributed to mental strain. It can also be used as a mouthwash for mouth ulcers and gum infections due to its antimicrobial oils. Externally, it can be used to treat rashes and acne when mixed with a little oil.
Sources & references used in this article:
Effects of planting times and mulching on growth and flowering of native wild Crocosmia crocosmiiflora in cut flower culture. by ST Kim, HG Ahn, WY Jung, YD Chang… – Journal of the Korean …, 2000 – cabdirect.org
Effects of corm shape on growth and flowering in cut flower culture of Korean wild Crocosmia crocosmiiflora. by HG Ahn, ST Kim, WY Jung, YD Jang… – Journal of the Korean …, 2000 – cabdirect.org
Summer Flowering Bulbs by L Sagers – 2012 – digitalcommons.usu.edu
Investigating montbretin A biosynthesis and elucidating acyltransferase in Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora by S Jo – 2018 – open.library.ubc.ca
Summer-blooming Bulbs: Scores of Spectacular Bloomers for Your Summer Garden by DG Hessayon – 1995 – Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
Current status of growth regulator usage in flower bulb forcing in North America by B Hanson – 2001 – books.google.com
Caring for cut flowers by W Miller – Floriculture and Ornamental Plant Biotechnology, 2012 – plantgrower.org
Garden bulb crops as pot plants using growth regulators. by R Jones – 2001 – books.google.com