Scientific name: Crocus
Common names: crocus, krokos
The Crocus Flower, a Harbinger of Spring
There are more than eighty known species and cultivars of the crocus flower. Crocuses have a wide geographical spread — they grow in diverse locations, ranging from Central Europe to the Middle East to Central Asia and Africa. Crocuses are perennial plants. Most crocuses bloom in late winter/early spring, but there are a few autumn varieties, too.
Crocuses are dwarf and bulbous plants. The flowers are chalice-shaped and long-tubed, with prominent stamens and stigmas. Most crocus varieties are fragrant flowers. They are sometimes called the light bulb of the garden. The dark-green leaves of the plant are long and thin, resembling grass blades. In many cultures the crocus flower is a messenger of the spring and a symbol of floral resurrection. Spring crocuses for being the first flowers to sprout and blossom before the last layer of snow has gone.
The word crocus is derived from the Greek kρόκος, translated as saffron. The Latin version of the name is crocatus. Other sources claim that the word crocus is of a Middle Eastern origin. It could mean a fiber (reference to the long stamens of the flower) or a thread (due to the use of saffron as a textile dye). The root of the word crocus is traced to several words in other languages, including the Arabic kurkum, Aramaic kurkama, Hebrew karkōm and Sanskrit kunkumam.
The most eccentric etymological hypothesis links the words crocus and crocodile. Thomas Fuller, a seventeenth-century social historian, wrote of the saffron crocus and crocodiles. ‘In a word, the sovereign power of saffron is plainly proved by the antipathy of the crocodiles thereunto. Crocodile’s tears are never true, save when he is forced where saffron growth (whence he hath his name χροχό-δειλος, or the saffron-fearer),’ concluded Fuller.
The Myth of Crocus and Smilax — a Story of a Tragic Love
Many flowers are emblems of gods and heroes. The symbol of a crocus flower is also seen in the folklore and spiritual traditions worldwide.
In the Greek mythology, Crocus (Κρόκος) was a young mortal man from Sparta who fell in love with the nymph Smilax. While there are several variations of the myth, none is a story with a happy ending. One version tells that, after her initial infatuation with Crocus, Smilax became tired of him and cast a spell, thus turning him into a crocus flower. The saffron crocus has distinctive orange stigmas which symbolize Crocus’ everlasting and unrequited love for Smilax.
In another version of the myth it was Crocus who avoided Smilax, causing her despair. When Aphrodite saw the pitiful state of Smilax, she turned her into a bindweed. There is yet a third version of the myth, according to which Crocus was heartbroken after the death of Smilax. Both the lovers were then turned into flowers. Finally, there is a version of the myth according to which Crocus committed suicide after the gods forbade them to marry Smilax. Flora, the goddess of plants, turned the lovers into flowers. Following the tradition, Greeks placed crocus and smilax flowers in their wedding bouquets.
The Myth of Crocus and Hermes — The Flower That Sprang From a Lover’s Blood
A different legend tells of Crocus being a lover and companion of the Olympian god Hermes, a protector of merchants, travelers and thieves. During a game of discus, Hermes accidentally wounded Crocus. The death of Crocus had a devastating effect on Hermes, who then decided to turn his lover’s body into a crocus flower.
In the animistic Pagan religion, the crocus remains the sacred flower of Hermes. Receiving a crocus flower is a subtle sign that Hermes has visited or contacted the adept.
In a slightly different version of the legend, Crocus was an infant son of the Phoenician princess Europa. It once happened that a group of gods descended from Mount Olympus to play a game of sport. By misdirecting a disc, Hermes (or Mercury) unintentionally killed Crocus. When the baby’s blood touched the soil, a crocus flower sprang.
The Passionate Embrace of Zeus and Hera That Made Crocuses Blossom
There is another beautiful myth about the origin of the crocus flower. The story goes that on a beautiful day Zeus and Hera lay embraced at a river bank. So passionate was their love, that multitudes of crocus flowers suddenly sprung around them. This legend immortalized the crocus as a symbol of passionate love and divine alchemy.
Crocus Flower in Love Spells and Amulets
Crocus is considered a powerful herb in plant witchery. The saffron variety is used in spells for love, wealth and abundance. When saffron-laced food is imbued with love vibrations, it ignites reciprocal feelings in the person who consumes it. It is also said that saffron possesses the ability to connect to the energy of the Moon. The crocus is sometimes associated with the goddess Eos or Aurora (the Goddess of the Dawn), because the flower closes at night and opens up at dawn. Dried crocus flowers kept in a sachet are used as love charms.
The crocus is also considered a magic ritual herb of the spring festivals Imbolc and Ostara. Crocuses are emblematic of Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, Like Persephone, the crocuses, too, emerge from the underground when spring arrives.
Dreams of saffron flowers reveal those aspects of our lives which demand immediate resolution. Dried crocus flowers put under the pillow are used as a magical cure for nightmares. Powdered and sprinkled around the house, they bring peace and blessings to the household.
The Greek enchantress Medea used saffron to seduce Jason. According to Homer, the fragrant love couch of Jove and Juno was decorated with crocus flowers. It is also said that in ancient India, the bed of the newlywed couple was covered with crocus flowers to ensure a harmonious relationship and long-lasting love.
In the Victorian tradition, the crocus flower was also given the meaning ‘do not abuse’. The crocus was seen as a flower which brings forth a ‘cooling energy’ to soothe intense emotional outbursts, and protects victims of domestic violence.
Crocus Flower — an Emblem of St. Valentine
Since most crocus varieties bloom around Valentine’s Day, some sources associate the flower to this holiday of romantic love. There is also a more direct link between the crocus flower and St. Valentine, the third-century Roman saint. The story goes that the saint once treated a blind young girl using herbal ointments. The girl grew fond of the saint, and the two of them often went for walks in the field. During these walks, the girl used to pluck crocus flowers, making bouquets for her father. When St. Valentine was jailed and sentenced to death, he sent a letter to the blind girl which contained a pressed yellow crocus. As soon as the girl opened the letter, she was suddenly able to see. Since this happened on February 14, crocus became associated to Valentine’s Day.
Crocus as a Cure For The Soul
In the Middle Ages, the saffron crocus symbolized merriment, cheerfulness, gladness, and the spirit of hope. Healers prescribed saffron as a flower that brings joy and happiness. The saffron crocus was seen as a flower of the spring. Through the principle of imitative magic, some believed that consuming the flower could also bring an end to a period of depression, or a dark night of the soul.
Crocus as an Emblem of Death and Bad Luck
Although rarely, the crocus flower has also had some less favorable connotations. Some historical narratives from India described saffron as a ‘robe of death’. A crocus flower which blooms on the grave of a loved person was seen as a good omen in the Far East. An Austrian superstition warns against picking crocuses, to prevent bad luck and losing strength.
The Color of a Crocus Flower
Crocuses exist in a wide range of colors, including white, cream, yellow, pastel lilac, purple and mauve. Some crocuses have stripes or feathers with other colors. Particularly strong symbolism exists for the colors white, purple, blue and yellow.
White Crocus Flower Meaning
Like most white flowers, the white crocus, too, is a symbol of truth, purity, innocence and sincerity. It also stands for baptism, rebirth and new beginnings.
Purple Crocus Flower Meaning
Purple is traditionally a color of royalty, nobility, spirituality, mystery and magic. Consequently, the purple crocus stands for all these qualities. It is also a symbol of success, pride and dignity.
Blue Crocus Flower Meaning
The blue crocus is a flower of sadness, melancholy and nostalgia for the days bygone.
Yellow and Orange Crocus Flower Meaning
The yellow crocus is a symbol of youthfulness, vitality, joy, happiness and hope. The meaning is drawn from the yellow-golden rays of the sun, and the symbolical dispelling of the darkness of the winter days. Yellow crocus is the flower of optimism, resilience and regeneration.
Some Interesting Facts About the Crocus Flower
- Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is made from the threads (stigma and styles) of the Crocus sativus variety. The price of a high-quality saffron can reach more than $10,000 per kilogram. By a rough estimate, 100,000 saffron stigmas need to be harvested to produce 1 kg of dry saffron.
- Crocus bulbs are part of a special culinary recipe. During the annual spring festival Hıdırellez celebrated on 6th of May in Turkey, people make a traditional pilaf dish with rice, wheat and crocus bulbs. This is an old tradition, with origins back to Ancient Anatolia, 2000 BC.
- The saffron crocus was secretly carried from the Middle East to England inside a walking stick. According to some historical accounts, the saffron spice was so much valued, that its dilution became a crime punishable by death. During the medieval European trade, crocus bulbs were highly valued and efficiently used as loan for gold and jewelry.
- When saffron crocus first came to India, the cloth-dyers started producing a striking golden-color dye from the flower’s stigmas. This hue was then used to dye the royal garments.
- Ancient Persians attributed magic properties to the saffron crocus. They believed that tossing saffron crocus flowers into the air would bring them prosperity.
- Ink made from the crocus stigmas was sometimes used during the Middle Ages as a cheaper substitute for gold leaf in objects of religious significance.
- Ancient Romans very much liked the crocus fragrance. A special feature doing their banquets was the use of a device that sprayed crocus scent on guests at the entrance. In Ancient Rome, the crocus blossom was also used as a potion for love. During the role of the Emperor Nero, the Romans considered the crocus flower a tonic for the heart. Romans also used crocuses for perfuming their baths.
- A folklore tradition says that the flowers which a girl picks in spring will reveal the name of her future husband. Picking crocuses was a sign that he would contain the letter C in his initials.
- Ancient Egyptians decorated their chalices with crocus flowers while drinking wine. The act symbolized joyful celebration. Historical artifacts dating back to 1600 B.C show that Egyptians were fond of crocuses.
- A Swiss superstition claims that placing saffron around the neck protects a child from harm.
- Throughout human history, many healers believed in the health benefits of crocus. For example, in England it was once believed that eating crocus seeds can relieve rheumatic pain. People in Ireland believed that rinsing bed linen with an infusion of saffron crocus, would strengthen the arms and legs.
The Best Time to Gift Someone Crocus Flowers
When choosing crocus flowers as a gift, their color symbolism is very important. Signifying achievement and pride, purple crocus can be a thoughtful gift to a friend at the occasion of a job promotion, business success or a public recognition. A bouquet of blue crocus flowers is a soulful encouragement gift for a friend who is going through a difficult phase in life. Yellow crocuses carry the spirit of youthfulness, energy and joy, and are a wonderful way to cheer up a colleague, friend or a romantic partner. White crocus flowers are a suitable felicitation gift on the occasion of birth of a child or a baptism. And finally, as symbols of passionate and romantic love, all crocus flowers are can convey the most intimate feelings of the heart.