After a few false starts, it starts to feel that spring is on its way when Crocus flowers appear. Their thin leaves go undetected. The flowers seem to appear all at once with increased daylight hours and the first warm sunshine. It is hardly surprising that they have long been recognised as a cultural symbol for the awakening of nature, renewal of life, resurrection and heavenly bliss. A carpet of naturalised Crocus in a lawn is a blissful sight after the long, dark, cold days of winter.
Many stumble over the plural of Crocus. The Latin pedant requires Croci. Widespread usage prefers Crocuses, even if I can still picture myself wincing under the penetrating and disappointed gaze of my old Latin teacher with every utterance.
Whether you choose to say Croci or Crocuses, these are undoubtedly resilient flowers. A waxy cuticle protects Crocus flowers and leaves from frost. They can therefore withstand the changeable and unpredictable temperatures of a British spring. This year has been freezing cold one minute and unseasonably warm the next. Crocuses are still going strong. They need the cold to spur growth. Their underground corms (swollen stems as opposed to bulbs) help them to survive adverse winter conditions and summer drought conditions. They have their own tunics for protection.
I am particularly fond of the deep purple-coloured varieties. Crocuses also come in yellow, orange, lilac and white as well as two-toned and striped cultivars (see photos below).
The Crocus is a member of the Iridaceae or Iris family. It is not native to Britain, yet it is a welcome naturalised, early spring flower. Crocus tommasinianus (Early Crocus) and Crocus vernus (Spring Crocus) appear in my Collins Wild Flower Guide as introduced species that escaped into the wild from cultivation throughout Britain. The flowers can be found in parks, woodland, churchyards, cemeteries and on roadsides.
Crocus vernus has been known in the wild in Britain since the 18th century. By contrast, Crocus tommasinianus is a more recent introduction. Its ability to seed abundantly has led to its firm establishment in just over 50 years. The alien status of Crocus species and hybrids means that botanical recording of their presence is somewhat inconsistent. Nonetheless, their early spring appearance heightens expectations of all the other spring flowers that are to come for both gardeners and wild flower lovers alike.
Spring Crocus Collage
References and Further Reading
- Kandeler, Riklef & Ullrich, Wolfram R. (2009): Symbolism of plants: examples of European-Mediterranean culture presented with biology and history of art: JANUARY: Crocus. Journal of Experimental Botany, Volume 60, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 6–8, https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/ern360
- Khodorova, N. V., & Boitel-Conti, M. (2013): The Role of Temperature in the Growth and Flowering of Geophytes. Plants (Basel, Switzerland), 2(4), 699–711. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants2040699
- Stace, Clive A. & Crawley, Michael J. (2015): Alien Plants. William Collins. London. (p.167)
- Stace, Clive A. & Preston, Chris D. & Pearman, David A. (2015): Hybrid Flora of the British Isles. Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland.
- Streeter, David et al. (2016): Collins Wild Flower Guide. The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland. 2nd Edition. William Collins. London.
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