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PlantFiles: Saffron Crocus
Crocus sativus

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Family: Iridaceae (eye-rid-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Crocus (KROH-kus) (Info)
Species: sativus (sa-TEE-vus) (Info)

8 vendors have this plant for sale.

71 members have or want this plant for trade.

Category:
Bulbs
Herbs

Height:
under 6 in. (15 cm)

Spacing:
3-6 in. (7-15 cm)

Hardiness:
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Danger:
N/A

Bloom Color:
Purple

Bloom Time:
Late Summer/Early Fall

Foliage:
Herbaceous
Smooth-Textured

Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:
Non-patented

Propagation Methods:
By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)

Seed Collecting:
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed

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By dayli
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Profile:

7 positives
2 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

RatingAuthorContent
Positive Kell On Feb 10, 2015, Kell from Northern California, CA (Zone 9b) wrote:

Per Jan Emming owner of the Destination:Forever Ranch and Gardens, a 40 acre desert botanical garden and sustainable living homestead in the Arizona desert with a nursery:

Saffron is a fascinating substance used as a food spice, as a dye, and as a medicine. It is the world's most costly spice, typically costing thousands of dollars per pound. The origins are highly unusual - it is the stigma of the saffron crocus, commonly named Crocus sativus in Latin. But the crocus bulbs used for the spice are not the same as the wild species, and it is thought that the actual progenitor of the saffron crocus is a species known as Crocus cartwrightianus, found on the island of Crete in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Saffron crocus is a beautiful small bulb in the iris family (Iridaceae) that blooms in the fall, usually October in the northern hemisphere. Flowers are a medium purple color with yellow stamens and a red three-lobed stigma. The stigma lobes are the source of the spice known as saffron.

Crocuses come from a bulb-like structure known as a corm, which is different anatomically from a bulb in that it is a thickened basal stem rather than tightly wrapped, modified leaves. Functionally speaking the two structures serve the same purpose, which is primarily food and water storage to get the plant through dry spells or cold winters in a dormant state. Crocuses are small, with the mature plants typically standing no more than 4 inches or so tall. Leaves are narrow and grasslike and tend to develop more fully after flowering is completed

The 3rd picture is of a field of saffron crocus flowers carpets the hillside of the Alps near Mund, southwestern Switzerland. This photo was taken on Friday, October 22, 2004. The harvest of the saffron flower had begun by this point, and went through October 30. This year's harvest was about 7 lbs/3kg.

In the next photo of the field of saffron crocus is in Pajhwok, Herat Province, Afghanistan. Saffron is commercially grown in fields from Spain to China, but the largest producer is Iran. Over 90% of saffron worldwide comes from Iranian plants, although the highest quality grades tend to come from small production fields of 10 to 80 acres (5 to 35 hectares) in European nations such as Italy, France, or Spain. High land and labor costs and the necessity of painstaking effort in the harvest season prevent European sources from producing much more than this, when Iranian exported saffron is much cheaper.

Field workers labor to harvest the saffron crocus flowers. They pick the entire flower and let the leaves remain behind to photosynthesize and store energy for next year's bloom crop. The flowering time is short, only about two weeks at most, and action must be swiftly taken to pick the flowers and separate out the stigmas for drying and sale.

Once the saffron flowers are picked, workers separate the red stigma lobes from the unwanted purple petals and the yellow stamens, which are discarded.

The fresh saffron stigmas are set to dry as soon as possible to preserve their quality and prevent spoilage by molding. Since each flower contains only one stigma with three lobes on it, this scene represents the aggregate production of at least several thousand flowers.

Saffron is bundled into shaving-brush like bunches in many Middle Eastern and Asian marketplaces. In others, it is sold in bulk in airtight containers or powdered first before sale. About 50,000 to 75,000 flowers are required to create a dry weight pound (454 grams) of saffron; the metric equivalent is 110,000 to 140,000 flowers per kilogram of dry weight.

Saffron is not all created equal in terms of its quality. The concentration of the active compounds and pigments varies between different clones of the plant, the environment in which it is grown, and how it is handled during and after harvest.

The highest quality saffron fetches about $5000/lb ($11,000/kg) at wholesale, while the cheapest strains cost as little as $500/lb ($1,100/kg). There are a number of parameters used to judge quality, but the highest grades have the deepest color and aroma and the least amount of extraneous material in it, such as leaf bits, dirt, or useless male stamens.

Saffron is also used as a dye for fabric and wool, including this merino sheep wool shown here. As with the food uses, the color can vary from pale yellow to reddish-gold. The depth of the final color depends upon the length of time the fabric is treated, the concentration of saffron used and its quality, and the type of fixative process utilized to set the dye and make it permanent.

The most familiar use of saffron is in various South Asian foods, especially curries such as this South Indian style seafood stew curry. In addition to lending a distinctive bright orange to yellow color to the food, the aroma and flavor has been described as "metallic honey with overtones of sweet hay".

Saffron is also used medicinally, not just in culinary applications. Research indicates that saffron may have a range of beneficial medical uses, including anti-cancer and antioxidant purposes, in prevention of retinal damage and macular degeneration of the eyes, and even to treat depression. More studies need to be done, but initial research seems promising.

Buddhist monks in Asia are well known for their saffron robes, which are an easy item of clothing used to distinguish them from the civilian population. Saffron is also used in incense, rituals, and as dye for paintings, sculptures, and so forth.

The saffron crocus is a most versatile plant product with a lengthy cultural history spanning numerous areas of human endeavor. Keep this in mind the next time you eat an Indian curry or Italian risotto, or see one of its many other uses.

Positive whitesam9 On Feb 20, 2011, whitesam9 from Dayton, OH (Zone 5b) wrote:

I planted a few corms of Saffron Crocus last year. They bloomed from late October to almost the end of November. Very beautiful deep blue blooms. They were a welcome sight in my garden, when there wasn't much else still blooming that late in the Fall.

Positive 618618 On Dec 20, 2008, 618618 from karaj
Iran wrote:

I can tell any useful information about saffron in persia if you like
by thanks~Hadi

Positive mcgerm On Nov 5, 2007, mcgerm from Galesburg, MI wrote:

I purchased 12 corms at the Landis Valley Museum Harvest Days last year for about $5. They are all blooming now, November 4th, and I have the threads drying in my kitchen. I learned from the vendor that they grow well in Lancaster County PA and that the Amish still grow them for their own use and as a small cash crop.

UPDATE Moved to MI from Lancaster PA and planted 50 bulbs in 2008. Picked about 10 flowers in 2008. They are blooming again (Fall 2009) and I have picked 11 flowers but most are still coming up or just in bud.

Positive dayli On Dec 30, 2006, dayli from Vienna, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

Thomas Jefferson used to grow saffron at Monticello. Before I heard that I always thought that it needed a warmer climate, but it grows fine here in Virginia. Beautiful purple flowers whose orange filaments you can use to flavor your paella if you are Spanish or dye your robes a golden yellow if you are a Buddhist monk.

It is the traditional flavoring for Cornish pastries, supposed to have come to Cornwall in England when Phoenician traders exchanged it for tin to make bronze during the bronze age. Other stories have it brought to England by the conquering Romans. It was a valuable spice in Imperial Rome. Or it returned with the crusaders from the middle east. The Arabic word for yellow is za'fran.

It blooms in October when color is always welcome. In the picture you can see the three red-orange threads coming out of the flower--that is the saffron. You can harvest it and still leave the flower in place. I let the filaments dry inside on a plate for two or three days and fold them by pinches into small squares of wax paper to be stored in a covered spice jar.

Neutral Howard_C On May 16, 2004, Howard_C from St John's, NL wrote:

Brian Mathew, in his 1982 monograph "The Crocus", says that he is fairly sure that C. sativus is an ancient selection of C. cartwrightianus, which grows around Athens. (It is possible that this has now been established by DNA analysis, but I don't know.) I have never been able to grow C. sativus here in Newfoundland, either in pots or outdoors, but I do have an alternative source of saffron: C. nudiflorus, which also has a very interesting history. (I've added this plant to the lists.)

Positive hobbyfarmer On Jun 2, 2003, hobbyfarmer wrote:

Other sources state toxicity in large doses(much higher than normaly used), maybe a concern in houses with small children. Also, most sources claim plant is triploid and sterile, no seed produced, propogation only by corms.

Positive lupinelover On Jan 24, 2003, lupinelover from Grove City, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:

Growing your own saffron is highly economical! A few corms are enough for most family's yearly use. They multiply pretty fast, so a relatively small investment will quickly pay for itself.

One cautionary note: many US catalogues sell "Autumn Crocus" when they are actually Colchicum. Be very sure to properly identify the plant. Colchicum is very toxic! Crocus sativus has 3 stigma that loll out of the flower; colchicum have 6 that stay inside the flower.

Neutral Baa On Oct 17, 2001, Baa wrote:

A cormous perennial of unknown origin (possibly Greece and Asia Minor) but widely grown for its valuable spice.

Has thin, needle like, dark green leaves. Bears fully open cup shaped, scented, lilac-pale purple flowers and a 3 cleft bright orange stigma which is the saffron.

Flowers September-October

Likes a well drained, gritty, friable, poorish soil in full sun. The corms are summer dormant and they need to be kept dry in this stage.

Saffron is an expensive spice, each flower yields just 3 strands so it have to be grown on a large scale and is hand collected even in our age of technology. 60,000 stigmas are needed just to make 1 lb of saffron and 1 acre of ground only yields 4lbs.

Saffron was primarily used as a dye, food colouring and as a perfume in ancient times, Persian kings wore slippers dyed with saffron. Pliny wrote about the flowers being strewed on the floor and in fountains to give off its perfume.

It was also used in medicine, it was thought to be able to treat jaundice, insomnia, measels and small pox.

Its most common modern use is of course in cookery where it imparts a subtle flavour and colouration to the food.

Regional...

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

,
Amesti, California
Brentwood, California
Encinitas, California
Garberville, California
Los Angeles, California
Rancho Palos Verdes, California
San Jose, California
Vista, California
Chicago, Illinois
Louisville, Kentucky
Chatham, Massachusetts
Springfield, Massachusetts
Belleville, Michigan
Galesburg, Michigan
Florence, Mississippi
Kansas City, Missouri
Bayville, New Jersey
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Croton On Hudson, New York
Haviland, Ohio
Claremore, Oklahoma
Corvallis, Oregon
Lebanon, Oregon
Brookhaven, Pennsylvania
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Mount Joy, Pennsylvania
Ashland City, Tennessee
Powell, Tennessee
Austin, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Garland, Texas
Magna, Utah
Mc Lean, Virginia
Vienna, Virginia
Madison, Wisconsin



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