|Yellow throated crocus (Crocus longiflorus) Żagħfran salvaġġ|
Crocuses are native to central and southern Europe.They can be found in areas from coastal to mountainous. They are also found in North Africa and the Middle East across Central Asia to western China.
In Malta we find only one species, the yellow-throated crocus, but more than 20 other species are found around the Mediterranean. This is a very large number when one considers that there are just 80 species of crocuses in the world.
The name crocus is derived from a Greek word (krokos) which is probably a variation of the Semitic word for saffron, a species of crocus. Saffron was widely cultivated when parts of the flower were used in cooking and seasoning and as a colouring agent.
The word saffron is derived from the Arabic word asfar, meaning yellow. Crocus cultivation was first recorded on the islands of Crete and Santorini on Minoan frescoes showing men gathering flowers.
The yellow-throated crocus, like many other species of crocus, flowes in autumn after the first rains of the season but the term autumn crocus does not usually refer to these species but to a group of flowes, members of the lily family known as Colchicum.
Crocuses first appeared in The Nethetherlands in the 1560s. Plants were taken there from Constantinople by the ambassador of the Ottoman Empire.
These were taken to the botanical garden of the city of Leiden in south Holland. By 1620 several garden varieties had already been developed from these plants, the first of several varieties that nowadays have found their way throughout the world.
This article was published in The Times on 18 November 2009.