“You might think that after thousands of years of coming up too soon and getting frozen, the crocus family would have had a little sense knocked into it.” Robert Benchley
Croci, plural of crocus, cover the two vibrant and exquisite color seasons of spring and autumn. Spring bloomers are symbols of resurrection and heavenly bliss. Autumn bloomers symbolized the late bloom of nature and its abundant. This small corm originated from many places; Africa, China, Middle East, and southern Europe. Once planted, croci, the plural of crocus, will look after themselves and flower year after year. The leaves look like grass shoots and the entire plant is less than six inches tall. Croci flowers respond to the weather; opening when sensing sunlight and closing when clouds appears. A hardy plant that can withstand icy winds.
For a bit of balance, many of the early word references to crocus are about Crocus savatisu. This is the plant from which saffron is produced. The word crocus is traced to the Hittite azupiru, Aramaic kurkama, kurkum in Arabic and Persian, and karkom in Hebrew. In the Greek language of 14th Century the word is similar to the modern English krokos. In the Latin the word originated from crocatus meaning saffron yellow. Then translated to the British language as croh.
There are three main varieties of croci. The first is the foodie Crocussativus, Family Iridaceae. Cultivated since 500 BCE (6th century), this hand-harvested spice was once used as collateral for gold and jewelry. Blooming in rich purples with brilliant red threads stretching out of its center, the stamens are processed to produce a shade of color called Royal Yellow. The symbols of wealth, status, and royalty. Minoan woman of the Bronze Age used saffron in cosmetics to produce glowing skin. Both Minoan and Roman women decorated their hair with its flowers. The Egyptians documented its use as a medicinal remedy dating back to 1600 BCE. Sometimes called snow crocus, Crocus savatia has a long and documented history. It blooms between September and October.
In smaller botany circles Crocus savatia is known as the autumn crocus but differs from the second group of the true autumn flowers. Colchicum byzantinum, Family Colchicaceae is known by two other names, meadow saffron or naked ladies. Their genus name Colchi reflects their origins of the Black Sea region of Georgia and their native range of Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. All parts of this Autumn Crocus are poisonous containing a toxic called colchicine. Their blooming time is from September to October.
The third group are the spring bloomers whose common name is Dutch Crocus, Crocus vernus, Family Iridaceae. Originally found in Eastern Europe, western Russia and native to the Pyrenees, Alps, and Carpathians Mountains. In 1579 another member, the Yellow Crocus, Crocus flavus discovered in northwestern Turkey and the Balkans. Crocus flavus grows well underneath the Black Walnut tree, Juglans nigra. Dutch Crocus bloom from March to April.
This is the variety that pops up through the snow, cold rains, and explodes forth in sunlight. A herald of spring, they are often referred to as the light bulb flower with the way their petals unfurl as the light filters through them. Each stem bears a single cup-shaped, six-petaled flower with three stamens.
It is this spring bloomer that carry messages of rebirth, youthfulness, and cheerfulness. Their meaning goes on to symbolize nature’s awakening in a show of floral revitalization and heavenly bliss. Croci are about the glee associated with youth. They seek to uplift the spirit and joyfully herald the return of spring.
Croci have been documented in spring celebrations dating back to 2000 BCE. Carved on slabs found in Hattusa (modern Boga Zkale, Turkey) when the Hittite’s ruled the area. The Ottoman Turks celebrated them in the Festival of Hidrellez on May 6th. A time of celebrating spring, the unity of nature and the beginning of summer. Croci corms combined with wheat made a pilaf that was served for the festivals. The Celts celebrated them during Imbolc and the Germanic tribes at the time of the Goddess Ostara.
Spring blooming crocus are in the domain of the Greek Goddesses Venus, Eos, Persephone, and Aphrodite.
Crocus were important to the Ariadne, the Goddess of Vegetation on Crete and Thera (modern day Santorini). She was the daughter of King Minos of Crete and the wife of the God Dionysus. Reborn every year, she is found in mosaics as the Crocus Goddess, carrying a large basket of blooms. She is surrounded by young girls wearing saffron-colored dresses and young boys as they are initiated into adulthood. The blooming crocus represents joy, renewal of life, blossoming of youth, and beauty.
As Greek mythology evolved, the Goddess Hecate oversaw croci and young girls as they transition to adults. She is the Goddess of Witchcraft and the Moon and guardian of the household. The girls gather blooms as an offering to Hecate.
The Greeks tell us the story of the crocus through a young noble named Crocus and Smilax. She was a shepherdess. They fell in love and the gods forbade their marriage. Crocus kills himself from deep sorrow. Smilax learning of his death was heart-broken and despondent. The Goddess Flora understanding their pain turned them into plants; Crocus became the flower and Smilax a vine. They are united again in woven garlands and used in wedding decorations. The golden fiber (stamens) of the saffron crocus are used to weave the two plants together symbolizing love. The red thread (stigma) is the flower of the crocus.
In another story Crocus is a shepherd and Similax a nymph. They anger the Gods on their union and turned Crocus into a flower and Smilax into Bindweed. Yet another adaptation, Crocus is the companion of the God Hermes. He is accidentally killed during a game of discus. In his sorrow, Hermes transforms Crocus to the flower.
Croci plays a role in romance. We can give credit to the Romans incorporating crocus as a symbol of Valentine day. The first written Valentine comes from the story of Valentinus, a Roman physician. Using his skills with natural remedies and prayer, he found himself jailed during the reign of Claudius II. Valentinus was placed in jail where his previous patient was the jailer’s daughter. His last act before his execution was to help the daughter recover her vision. He sent a yellow crocus with a message signed “from your Valentine”. February 14, 270 BCE.
The fragrance of this lovely bloom is thought to inspire love and even believed to bloom at midnight on Valentine’s Day. An aphrodisiac, the Romans devised a mister to apply to guests as they entered banquets. In India petals are lay on the wedding bed signifying the couple will have a good, solid, and loving relationship.
Victorians associated the croci with the sun. In the language of flowers, they used it to mean cheerfulness and mirth. It is a perfect gift for someone who needs a bit of energy and positive energy in their life. The flower is a symbol of happiness and a reminder of walking through forests when young.
Croci is the perfect flower for spring bouquets, a gift between friends or birthdays. The flowers can be found in shades of orange, purple, white and yellow. Purple represents success, pride, and dignity. This color is a symbol of royalty and nobility. It can be a perfect gift for someone who exhibits these traits. White is a symbol of purity, truth, and innocence. Used in wedding decorations. Yellow is cheerfulness and joy.
Some general pieces of information on croci. Squirrels like to eat the corms. They are pollinated by multiple types of insects; bees, moths, and beetles. Ruled by the element water and the planets Mercury and Venus. The crocus is number seven in numerology representing knowledge and awareness. Their bright and playful colors make them perfect flowers for backyards and gardens.