AskDefine | Define crocus

Dictionary Definition

crocus n : any of numerous low-growing plants of the genus Crocus having slender grasslike leaves and white or yellow or purple flowers; native chiefly to the Mediterranean region but widely cultivated

User Contributed Dictionary

see Crocus



through Latin, from κρόκος 'crocus'


  • (US) IPA: /ˈkroʊkəs/, SAMPA: /"kroUk@s/
    Rhymes: -əʊkəs


crocus (plural crocuses, crocus or croci)
  1. A perennial flowering plant (of the Iridaceae family). Saffron is obtained from the stamens of Crocus sativus.
  2. Some similar flowering plants, such as the autumn crocus and prairie crocus.


plant of genus Crocus
  • Bulgarian: шафран (shafran)
  • Catalan: croc?
  • Dutch: krokus
  • French: crocus
  • German: Krokus
  • Greek: κρόκος (krokos)
  • Ido: croco
  • Italian: croco
  • Latin: crocus
  • Polish: szafran
  • Portuguese: croco
  • Spanish: croco
  • Turkish: çiğdem

Extensive Definition

Crocus (plural: crocus, crocuses) is a genus of perennial flowering plants, native to a large area from coastal and subalpine areas of central and southern Europe (including the islands of the Aegean), North Africa and the Middle East, across Central Asia to western China.
The genus Crocus is placed botanically in the iris family (Iridaceae). The plants grow from corms and are mainly hardy perennials, and are found in a wide range of habitats, including woodland, scrub and meadows.
There are about eighty species of crocus (of which approximately 30 are cultivated). Their cup-shaped, solitary, salverform flowers taper off into a narrow tube. Their color varies enormously, although lilac, mauve, yellow and white are predominant. The grass-like, ensiform leaf shows generally a white central stripe along the leaf axis. The leaf margin is entire. All crocuses typically have three stamens. The spice saffron is obtained from the stigmas of Crocus sativus, an autumn/fall-blooming species.
The name of the genus is derived from the Greek κρόκος, krokos (attested in Homer's Iliad, Book XIV, verse 347), this in turn being a Semitic loanword (Hebrew karkom, Aramaic kurkama, Persian and Arabic kurkum, all meaning saffron or saffron yellow). In Greek, the word is also used for the similarly colored egg yolk.

Other uses of the name crocus

Though some true crocus bloom with the fall (autumn) rains, after summer's heat and drought, the name autumn crocus is often used as a common name for Colchicum, which is in the lily family (Liliaceae), and which has six stamens; it is also known as meadow saffron, though unlike true saffron the plant is toxic. The so-called prairie crocus (formerly Anemone patens, now Pulsatilla patens or P. ludoviciana) belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
image:CrocusEABowles.jpg|Crocus 'E.A. Bowles', a Chrysanthus hybrid

True autumn crocuses

Most true autumn crocus flower in September to November in the northern hemisphere. Some flower before their leaves appear. Autumn/fall flowering species include: Crocus banaticus (syn. C. iridiflorus), C.cancellatus, C. goulimyi, C. hadriaticus, C. kotschyanus (syn. C. zonatus), C. laevigatus, C. ligusticus (syn. C. medius ), C. niveus, C. nudiflorus, C. ochroleucus, C. pulchellus, C. sativus (saffron crocus), C. serotinus, C. speciosus, C. tournefortii. Crocus laevigatus has a long flowering-period which starts in late autumn or early winter and may continue into February.

In cultivation

As one of the first flowers to bloom in spring, the large hybridized and selected "Dutch crocus" are popular with gardeners. Crocus flowers and leaves are protected from frost by a waxy cuticle; in areas where snow and frost occasionally occur in the early spring it is not uncommon to see early-flowering crocus blooming through a light late snowfall.
Most crocus species and hybrids should be planted in a sunny position, in gritty, well-drained soil, although a few prefer shadier sites in moist soil. Some are suitable for naturalising in grass. The corms should be planted about 3–4 cm deep; in heavy soils a quantity of sharp grit should be dug in to improve drainage.
Some crocuses, especially C. tommasinianus and its selected forms and hybrids (such as 'Whitewell Purple' and 'Ruby Giant') seed prolifically and are ideal for naturalising. They can, however, become weeds in rock gardens, where they will often appear in the middle of choice, mat-forming alpine plants and can be difficult to remove.


The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where Crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, in the 1560s. A few corms were forwarded to Carolus Clusius at the botanical garden in Leiden. By 1620, the approximate date of Ambrosius Bosschaert's painting (illustration, left), new garden varieties had been developed, such as the cream-colored crocus feathered with bronze at the base of the bouquet, similar to varieties still in the market. Bosschaert, working from a preparatory drawing to paint his composed piece, which spans the whole of Spring, exaggerated the crocus so that it passes for a tulip, but its narrow, grasslike leaves give it away.


The taxonomic characteristics are based mainly on the presence or absence of a prophyll (a basal spathe) and the aspect of the style and the corm tunic.
1 Subgenus Crocus
A. Section Crocus
Series Kotschyani
Series Longiflori
Series Verni
B. Section Nudiscapus
Series Intertexti
Series Orientales
Series Speciosi
2. Subgenus Crociris


E.A. Bowles, A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners, Martin Hopkinson 1924
  • Brian Mathew, Christopher Grey-Wilson, Bulbs, (ill. Marjorie Blamey), Collins, 1981
  • Brian Mathew, Crocus: A Revision of the Genus Crocus, Timber Press, 1983. ISBN 0-917304-23-3
  • Brian Mathew, Flowering Bulbs for the garden, Collingridge/Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1987. ISBN 0-600-35175-0

External links

crocus in Bulgarian: Минзухар
crocus in Czech: Šafrán
crocus in Danish: Krokus
crocus in German: Krokusse
crocus in Modern Greek (1453-): Κρόκος
crocus in Spanish: Crocus
crocus in Esperanto: Krokuso
crocus in French: Crocus
crocus in Indonesian: Crocus
crocus in Italian: Crocus
crocus in Hebrew: כרכום
crocus in Luxembourgish: Krokus
crocus in Lithuanian: Krokas
crocus in Dutch: krokus
crocus in Japanese: クロッカス
crocus in Norwegian: Krokus
crocus in Polish: Szafran
crocus in Portuguese: Crocus
crocus in Russian: Крокус
crocus in Finnish: Sahramit
crocus in Swedish: Krokus
crocus in Turkish: Çiğdem
crocus in Chinese: 番红花屬
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