ISSUE 9  |  Grand Gardens

Field Guide: Crocus

March 03, 2014 5:30 PM

BY Amanda Gutterman

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Crocus:   “The Early Riser”

What will heaven look like when we get there? Emily Dickinson predicted a springtime Resurrection, with “the feet of people walking home” amid clumps of crocuses. We’ll be in sandals. 

Above: For now we thank those tiny cup shaped flowers for making late February and early March bearable. We love the autumn version–Crocus sativus–too. Named for the ancient Hebrew word for “saffron,” Crocus sativus produces the spice; each flower has the red threadlike stigmas you pay for so dearly at the market (it takes nearly 4,000 flowers to produce an ounce of saffron).


  • Perennial: Grows from bulb-like corms
  • Hardy: Zones 6-8 (and 9 in the West)
  • Pair it with plants that can live in snow, such as winter jasmine or snowdrops


  • If over-eager buds appear in January, cover with milk cartons to protect from cold
  • Partial to full sun
  • Water in fall if beds are very dry

Above: (L) Crocus sativus blooming at Oliver Gustav’s Antiquaries and (R) Crocus michelsonii corms via SRGC.

If you want to harvest your own saffron, pick Crocus sativus flowers on a sunny day and then let the stigmas dry before using them in recipes. Most other crocuses bloom in spring; plant their corms in the autumn in clumps of 12 or more. If they like your soil, crocuses will naturalize and, as the years pass, spread across your early lawn like a pond of purple and yellow and white.

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For more about spring flowers, see our posts about Tulips, Daffodils, and Hyacinths.