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Crinkly Crocus

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Hey ya doll. Don’t you mind me, or should I say “us”. We certainly don’t mind this snow that can’t resist showing up again after a long hiatus. Every winter we get this last flash of winter like it’s resisting letting go, right? We kind of like that last cry of winter after a premature tease of spring to get our bulbs going.

crocus in snow, by Vasile Cotovanu

It may be frosty up top, but we know when it’s time to poke our heads out and find some action on the surface.

crocus flower cluster in early spring

If you bring us along to whatever chilly adventures you get into and poke us down into a nice spot, you’ll find us low-maintenance and easy to keep track of. We won’t ever be a bother, just a pleasant sight when it’s time get some pollination-on. The astute observer may even get a good peek at our crinkly bits.

Eyes up top guys… my stigma is the frilly bit up above the dusty-looking stamen. Yep, we come with complete flowers for easy reproduction among the neighbors. Some of my siblings even open up all the way and you can see the more distant family similarities.

That’s the iris family (Iridaceae). Those gals can be a bit nasty; toxic attitudes, ya know. Did you know my close sister… honestly, before she opens up and shows off all her naughty bits, we look JUST alike, anyway- she’s the flower fancy cooks get their pricey saffron spice from, Crocus sativus (Autumn, as we call her). And let me tell you, she is none too happy about having her bits pulled off to flavor rice, but “it’s a living” as they say. She wouldn’t actually be around anyway if not for those flavorful boy-bits of hers (test-tube baby, but don’t tell her I told you). Who woulda thought to eat stems plucked off a small short-lived flower anyway? Wish I was a fly on the tree for that ancient discovery. People have been cultivating that saffron crocus spicy gal for thousands of years, across several civilizations.

watercolor of crocus sativa from Pedanius Dioscorides's De Materia Medica- by Image Catalog

Who woulda thunk it to look at her.

Talk about a relative who is overly full of themselves at family functions. I don’t tolerate her whining about how hard it is to be a kept flower- I just roll over to another flower bed and chill with some distant irises. We can always relate because we’re all quite toxic, except miss saffron autumn crocus or at least her naughty bits. Wanna know what arsenic poisoning is like, without having to dig up some arsenic?? Nibble on a bit of THIS crocus! Ha! Better not.

Oh, me? Well sweet of you to ask. I’m from the Dutch crocuses, C. vernus. So named because I am quite famous for popping up right at the cusp of spring. Winter’s bum is still clearing the threshold of the door, ya know what I mean? HA! Can’t hold me back! We’re also the most commonly found in stores (and yards). Bread and butter crocus of the spring. Our even earlier birds are the Tommies (C. tommasinianus). Those lil buggers get up even before me. Little ones, that’s how they are, right? Up the second there’s a hint of spring light. I say- take a moment to make sure it’s not a false start. Let some snow melt a little bit so you don’t freeze your buds off. Our clan is also fairly evenly represented in both spring and fall. Shoulder-season little darlings, all around, and resting smartly during the harshest seasons. I said it before and I’ll say again- us bulbs are smart.

Well, actually we hunker down each summer through to winter in a corm, not a true bulb. But you potato, they say tuber, something like that. Our corms still store the energy grabbed from sunlight and CO2-built sugars from spring leaf growth. That “root cellar” will feed our rapid flower growth before even getting leaves up to absorb sunshine. A girl outta a bulb/corm can really prioritize. What’s the difference anyway- corm or bulb? Well they’re both underground storage and no from root tissue but a bulb is made of specially adapted super swollen leaves, pressed together to form the famous layer-cake of an onion (worst cake EVER). If you dissected a corm (please leaf me outta it, thanks!) you’d see no striation of layers but more like a potato actually. Our storage tissue is from a swollen stem, not leaf.

Crocus flower with bearded plants in background

Our iris cousins, by the way- rhizomes. Also swollen stems but they like to air their swollen organs out slightly above ground. Kinky gorgeous cousins, don’t get me started. But don’t you fret; we are fine with being labeled with bulbs instead of corms. No worries honey, we know what ya mean.

Speaking of naming foibles- like so many iris and lily families’ plants, our super pretty showy flowers have special types of petals called “tepals”. That name I do love actually, because it’s a mix of “petal” and “sepal” (so that’s tepal like “tea-pull”). Where’s that T come from? It’s French. You know how weird they are. And better than “petaloid”, ick. This is all because our plant types don’t really make a clear distinction between the outer-most flower organs of sepals and second layer that’s usually more showy petals. We don’t really need protection of tougher sepal structures so threw our energy into all-showiness of pretty sepals & petals to form… tepals! Okay, sorry getting super nerdy on you.

What can I say? Spring excites me. The world is starting to wake up and shake off the shell of a cold dark winter. Hope some bees are out already so I can get my buzz-on and make some babies. Did I mention my folks can help out the local pollinator population, despite not being a native species, because we offer one of the earliest pollen and nectar sources to feed them in their early nest-building stages. So be a dear and plant a few corms around your yard, wherever you have a sunny little nook. We’ll treat you with our shimmery little cupped faces and give a little love to the bees too. Bring us to your snowly home-slopes and enjoy some crocus snow-bunny love.



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