Crocus sativus
Common Name: saffron crocus
Type: Bulb
Family: Iridaceae
Native Range: Eastern Mediterranean
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 0.25 to 0.50 feet
Spread: 0.25 to 0.50 feet
Bloom Time: September to October
Bloom Description: Lilac purple
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Drought

Culture

Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Plants perform best in gritty, well-drained soils. Avoid heavy clay soils, poorly-drained soils or overly moist soil conditions. Plants do best in climates with long, dry summers. Plant corms about 2-4” deep and 3-4” apart in late summer to early fall (September). Plants are sterile and do not produce viable seed. Divide corms to propagate.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Crocus sativus, commonly called saffron crocus, is a fall-blooming crocus from which the spice saffron is harvested. Although cultivated since ancient times, the native habitat of this crocus is unknown. Saffron crocus may have first appeared in Greece as a sterile triploid form that was selected from C. cartwrightianus. Saffron crocus is commercially grown today in a number of locations, but primarily from Spain to Italy to Greece to Iran to India, with almost 80% of world production coming from Spain and Iran. It is also grown ornamentally as an attractive fall bloomer. It typically grows to 4-6” tall. Each corm produces several upright, cup-like, lilac-purple flowers that bloom in early to mid-autumn for about 1-2 weeks. Each flower has three long style branches tipped with reddish-orange stigmas. The stigmas often protrude beyond the petal cup. It takes about 1/4 million stigmas (75,000 flowers) to produce one pound of saffron which in large part explains why saffron is the most expensive spice regularly sold in commerce today. Flowers close at night and open up in the morning, but usually remain closed on rainy/cloudy days. Basal, grass-like leaves appear slightly prior to bloom. Colchicum autumnale (meadow saffron with pink flowers and 6 stamens) also blooms in autumn, but is very poisonous.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Squirrels, mice and other rodents can be problems. Squirrels seem particularly adept at locating, digging up and eating newly planted corms.

Garden Uses

Brings attractive ornamental fall bloom to the landscape. Large sweeping drifts can be spectacular. Plants also may be grouped in beds, borders, rock gardens, herb gardens, in front of shrubs, along walks or in various other small areas around the home. For culinary purposes, stigmas may be removed from flowers with tweezers, dried and then stored in air-tight containers for later use as saffron, but the harvest amount from a large mass of flowers is disappointingly small. Saffron is a prized ingredient in a number of classic dishes including risotto, rice, paella and bouillabaisse.