Nature on our doorsteps: Autumn Crocuses
The lovely little crocus flower is most usually associated with springtime.
Those delightfully coloured heralds of springtime belong to the Iris family of plants. Some of these crocuses also bloom in autumn, like the Saffron Crocus.
The Saffron Crocus produces the world’s most expensive cooking spice, saffron.
A tiny pinch of this red coloured spice adds wonderful colour, aroma, and a delicate flavour to foods like rice and deserts.
Saffron spice is collected from the three, long, red, thread-like filaments inside the flowers.
These are the female parts of the flower, and because it is so delicate, saffron needs to be collected by hand and dried slowly.
Also, because approximately 70,000 plants are needed to make just one pound of spice, saffron is said to be the most expensive spice in the world.
Confusingly, however, the name ‘crocus’ is also used for another flower that blooms in autumn.
This is Colchicum, also known as the Meadow Saffron or the Autumn Crocus.
This plant is a member of the Lily family, not the Iris family.
Colchicum grows in wet grassland meadows and it produces lovely purple-pink crocus-like flowers.
This plant is native to Ireland, but it is very rare and is legally protected.
Many different types of garden varieties can be bought, however.
Colchicum does not produce the desirable saffron spice and, as its bulb contains a toxic compound called colchicine, it should not be confused with the spice-producing Saffron Crocus.