JoAnne Skelly: Autumn crocus in bloom | NevadaAppeal.com
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JoAnne Skelly: Autumn crocus in bloom

JoAnne Skelly
Autumn crocus by JoAnne Skelly.
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What a surprise awaited me one morning a week ago as I was watering. I had completely forgotten this wonderful late summer gem, thinking bulb blooming time was over until next spring. However, the fall-flowering crocus amazed me once again. What a lovely burst of color. I had noticed leaves in this bed months ago and I thought they were the remnants of a spring-flowering bulb. There are no leaves now, just delicate bare flowers, pinkish lavender in color.

Many species of crocus bloom in fall, including the saffron crocus, known for its culinary, dye and medicinal uses. Crocuses are members of the iris family and are most seen as prolific early spring bloomers, a welcome sight after a long gray winter. Whether they bloom in spring, late summer or autumn, crocuses are not true bulbs. They are actually corms, rounded underground storage organs that are swollen stem bases. Gladioli and cyclamens are also corms.

Some species of autumn crocus are Crocus kotschyanus (previously known as Crocus zonatus). It has pinkish lavender or lilac-colored flowers. Crocus pulchellus flowers are pale lilac with purple veins and yellow throats. The saffron crocus is Crocus sativus. It has lilac flowers and red-orange stigmatas (the pollen receptor and part of the female reproductive parts of the flower), which are the source of the most expensive spice in the world. It takes about a dozen saffron crocus flowers to season a good-sized paella, according to Sunset Western Garden Book. The showiest of the fall-blooming crocuses is the Crocus speciosus. It has blue-violet, lavender or mauve flowers. This particular species spreads easily by seeds or division.

Many species of crocus corms are edible and are common foods in countries such as Greece, Spain, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean. In some countries, they are eaten raw. In others, the corms are roasted or cooked first. Seeds may be eaten raw. Sometimes the leaves are eaten as greens. While saffron is highly prized as a spice and is thought to reduce arteriosclerosis, it can prove fatal if too much is eaten.

Be aware there is a plant from a different family also known as autumn crocus or meadow saffron. All parts are deadly poisonous to humans and pets. Colchicum is its scientific name. It too grows from corms, but these are not true crocuses. The leaves grow in the spring and then die out before the flowers emerge.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at skellyj@unce.unr.edu.