A GROWING CONCERN: Go just wild about saffron

IT IS NOW time to start ordering and buying spring flowering plants. However, it is not the time to plant them yet!

Next week I will give you the standard list but for today, how about some bulbs you plant in the fall that bloom now in autumn?

Colchicum bulbs are one of my most cherished fall blooming plants. They also get me thinking about saffron crocus, another superb fall blooming bulb and since I have never written an article on either one of these magnificent bulbs, I suppose I have only myself to blame for their lack of noteworthiness here on the Peninsula.

Colchicum is a group of fall flowering bulbs that has roughly 160 different species. It is native to the Mediterranean and West Asia, which makes it ideally suited to grow and raise here on the North Olympic Peninsula (think lavender).

Meadow saffron

Colchicum is commonly referred to as an Autumn crocus or meadow saffron and basically resembles a gigantic crocus. What makes this plant awesome is the fact that the ovary of the flower is underground; thus colchicum produce a long flower stem.

This plant also produces its foliage in the spring, and the leaves have a very glossy appearance and are a deep, dark green.

The foliage then dies back in summer and when fall arrives, the flower, absent of any leaves, shoots up out of the ground.

This gives a surreal look to the area, as these humongous crocus-like blooms seem to drift above the ground.

Colchicum are very hardy as well, and soon, a patch will form as the bulbs, which are actually corms, multiply.

They can be found in a color range from lilac to pink, purple to rose and even violet or pure white.

Colchicum can be forced indoors, which means you can have them bloom in a pot indoors, then transplant them outside for years of future enjoyment.

So please, go out to the various Peninsula nurseries and see if you can buy some of these unusual but beautiful, intriguing fall-flowering bulbs.

Saffron crocus

Saffron is an extremely old and very expensive spice derived from the plant crocus sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus. This, too, is a large plant and flower when compared with its cousin, the spring flowering crocus.

When I say large, I’m talking 8 to 12 inches in height and flowers 2 to 3 inches in size. A single corm (bulb-type plant) will produce up to four of these large flowers.

It has been cultivated and raised for more than 4,000 years and has a history of being used as an early dye. In fact, prehistoric cave depictions dating back some 50,000 years, containing saffron-based pigments, have been found in modern-day Iran.

Saffron crocus itself cannot naturally reproduce; it has evolved from extensive (and overproduced) use.

Saffron, no doubt, derives from crocus varieties found on Crete and Greece and, colchicum, thrives in other places with a Mediterranean-like climate (which we have here on the Peninsula) — dry summers, wet or damp winters, mild temperatures and sandy, well-drained and nutrient-poor soils.

The plant themselves prefers full sunlight and do very poorly in shady conditions.

Expensive spice

It takes about 150 flowers to produce just a single gram of saffron, whicht makes it one of the most expensive spices in the world.

Its reputation also propels its sales. Saffron was said to have been used by Cleopatra as an aphrodisiac. It was used in ancient times as a treatment for some 90 illnesses. Saffron was (and is) used in dyes, perfumes and body washes.

It also was coveted for use in magical and spiritual rituals. Saffron was thought to cure battle wounds and bring good luck when woven into a person’s garment. And, foremost, as a food-enhancing spice.

Saffron crocus can bring acclaim to your yard as a fabulous fall flowering perennial and seem to make you lucky because of how easy it will grow due to our ideal conditions.

Saffron crocus varieties are available, such as colchicum, and a range of pastel colors. It is a perfect companion plant, so try to co-mingle them both around your flower beds for a bloom that will most definitely be noticed.

Be modern and hip by reaching far back in time for these little known, but admired autumn blooming plants.

Be hip and stay well!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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