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Crocus species: Left: Crocus sativus, right: Crocus vernus Illustration from Thomé: Flora of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, 1885

Crocus species:
Left: Crocus sativus , right: Crocus vernus
Illustration from Thomé:
Flora of Germany, Austria and Switzerland , 1885

Subdivision : Seed plants (Spermatophytina)
Class : Bedecktsamer (Magnoliopsida)
Order : Asparagales (Asparagales)
Family : Iris family (Iridaceae)
Genre : Crocuses
Scientific name

The crocuses ( Crocus ; singular in general "the crocus", in Switzerland also "the crocus"; plural crocuses) are a genus of the Iris family (Iridaceae). The approximately 235 crocus species (as of January 2017) are mainly found in the Orient , but also in Europe, North Africa and as far as western China. They have been popular ornamental plants for centuries. As early bloomers , they can be found in the parks and gardens of temperate latitudes around the world. Some species already bloom in autumn and produce fruits in the following spring.

An economically important species of crocus is saffron ( Crocus sativus ), from whose Greek name krókos (κρόκος) the Latin-German word crocus comes. The biblical rose of Sharon could be a crocus. Targeted crossings of different species have resulted in a large number of varieties and crocus hybrids which vary greatly in color, flowering time and duration. Occasionally crocuses can be confused with species of the genera of the timeless family Colchicum or false crocuses , which are similar in habitus and whose distribution area overlaps in the Mediterranean.

Description and ecology

Vegetative characteristics

Crocuses are perennial herbaceous plants . These semi-hardy to hardy geophytes form the tubers as persistent organs. The few (mostly about six) basal leaves are simple and have parallel veins; they almost always have a whitish median nerve. The leaf margin is smooth.

Generative characteristics

The flowers stand individually or in groups in a stalkless inflorescence with bracts . The flowers that appear in spring or autumn vary widely in color, but purple, light purple, yellow, and white are predominant. The hermaphrodite flowers are radial symmetry and threefold. The röhrig overgrown bloom stand in two circles; either they are all equal or those of the inner circle are smaller. There is only one circle with three stamens . The short stamens are fused with the flower tube. The anthers are yellow, white or almost black. Three carpels form an ovary located in the ground. The stylus consists of three or more stylus branches.

Only after fertilization does the fruit push itself out of the ground. Triple capsule fruits are formed that contain many seeds.

Crocus species that bloom in autumn, whose capsule fruits do not appear until the following spring, can be confused with autumn crocus and other species from the genus Colchicum , which have six stamens rather than three. The genus of the false crocuses is similar to the crocuses and occurs in the Mediterranean area, among others. Some species are known as autumn crocuses. They bloom from late summer to autumn. Often the flowers appear long before the leaves. Some autumn flowering species are:

  • Crocus banaticus (Syn .: Crocus iridiflorus )
  • Crocus hadriaticus
  • Crocus kotschyanus (Syn .: Crocus zonatus )
  • Crocus ochroleucus
  • Crocus sativus ( saffron )


The pollination is done by insects.


The distribution area of the Crocus species extends from southwest, central and southern Europe, North Africa, Southeast Europe, Asia Minor and further over Central Asia to western China. The distribution limits are around 10 ° W - 80 ° E longitude and 30 ° N - 50 ° N latitude. The majority of the species occurs in the Balkans and Asia Minor. The area is characterized by cold, damp winters and warm summers with little rainfall. The growing season of the crocuses is from autumn to late spring. In the dry summers, the tuber survives in the ground. With the onset of wetter weather in autumn, some species already begin to sprout flowers or leaves. The flowering time of the majority of crocuses begins at the end of winter. Some species produce leaves and flowers at the same time, while others produce leaves for up to several months after flowering.

Systematics and types

Systematics according to Mathew

Section Crocus Verni series : Elven crocus ( Crocus tommasinianus )
Section Crocus Verni series : Spring crocus ( Crocus vernus (Syn .: Crocus albiflorus ))
Section Nudiscapus Reticulati series : Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor'
Section Nudiscapus series Biflori : Small crocus ( Crocus chrysanthus , illustration)
Section Nudiscapus series Speciosi : Glorious Autumn crocus ( Crocus speciosus )
Subgenus Crociris : Transylvanian autumn crocus ( Crocus banaticus )

The genus of almost 100 species before 2000 was subdivided on the basis of morphological characteristics. Mathew (1982) divided the genus Crocus into two sub-genera. The subgenus Crocus has outwardly directed stamens (extrorse anthera), the subgenus Crociris, however, inwardly directed stamens (introrse anthera). The subgenus Crociris was created to include the species Crocus banaticus in the system. The subgenus Crocus is divided into two sections, the Crocus section and the Nudiscapus section. These in turn split into six or nine series. The morphological criteria are:

  • Presence or absence of a preceding sheet (prophyll), see also a flower diagram or a supporting sheet
  • Structure of the tuber, especially the outer shell
  • Leaf structure
  • Presence or absence of a cover sheet (bracts)
  • Division of the stylus
  • Color of the stamens
  • Heyday

The following list contains the 80 species known in 1982 and the 11 species that have been rewritten since then (marked with *): A list of the 241 recognized species can also be found in R. Govaerts (as of 2018) in accordance with the monograph by Rukšāns 2017 (235 species there).

Morphological systematics

Phylogenetic systematics

A phylogenetic analysis of the genus Crocus published in 2008 resulted in the cladogram below. The affiliation of the individual species to the series by Mathew, which were defined on the basis of morphological criteria, is also recorded. With a few exceptions, the phylogenetically and morphologically determined relationships agree. The species Crocus banaticus loses its special position as an independent subgenus in this system.

Cladogram :

Syringodea bifucata


Romulea tempskyana


Romulea ramiflora

 S. Carpetani  

Crocus carpetanus


Crocus nevadensis


 S. Biflori 

Crocus caspius

 S. Orientales  

Crocus korolkowii


Crocus alatavicus


Crocus michelsonii

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 S. Versicolores  

Crocus malyi

 S. Subgen. Crociris 

Crocus banaticus


 S. longiflori  

Crocus longiflorus

 S. Verni 

Crocus vernus subsp. albiflorus


Crocus etruscus

 S. Verni 

Crocus kosaninii


Crocus tommasinianus


Crocus vernus subsp. vernus

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 S. Reticulati 

Crocus veluchensis


Crocus sieberi subsp. nivalis


Crocus robertianus


Crocus sieberi subsp. sieberi


Crocus cvijicii


Crocus rujanensis


Crocus dalmaticus


Crocus sieberi subsp. atticus


Crocus sieberi subsp. sublimis

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 S. longiflori  

Crocus goulimyi

 S. Lon. 

Crocus ligusticus

 S. Scardici 

Crocus pelistericus


Crocus scardicus


 S. longiflori 

Crocus serotinus subsp. clusii

 S. Versicolores  

Crocus serotinus subsp. salzmannii


Crocus nudiflorus


Crocus serotinus subsp. serotinus

 S. Versicolores  

Crocus versicolor


Crocus cambessedesii


Crocus corsicus


Crocus minimus


Crocus imperati cv. De Jager


Crocus imperati subsp. imperati


Crocus imperati subsp. suaveolens

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 S. longiflori  

Crocus niveus

 S. Kochyani 

Crocus vallicola


Crocus gillanicus


Crocus scharojanii


Crocus autranii

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Crocus kotschyanus subsp. suvorowianus


Crocus ochroleucus


Crocus kotschyanus subsp. kotschyanus


Crocus kotschyanus subsp. cappadocicus


Crocus kotschyanus subsp. hakkariensis


Crocus karduchorum

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 S. Vernsicolores 

Crocus baytopiorum

 S. Crocus 

Crocus asumaniae


Crocus mathewii


Crocus pallasii subsp. pallasii


Crocus pallasii subsp. dispathaceus


Crocus moabiticus


Crocus pallasii subsp. turcicus


Crocus pallasii subsp. haussknechtii

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Crocus hadriaticus


Crocus cartwrightianus


Crocus thomasii


Crocus oreocreticus


Crocus oreocreticus


Crocus sativus


Crocus cartwrightianus

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 S. Biflori  

Crocus adanensis

 S. Flavi 

Crocus paschei

 S. Flavi 

Crocus hyemalis


Crocus graveolens


Crocus vitellinus


Crocus antalyensis


Crocus flavus subsp. flavus


Crocus candidus


Crocus olivieri subsp. olivieri


Crocus olivieri subsp. balansae


Crocus olivieri subsp. istanbulensis

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 S. Laevigati 

Crocus boryi


Crocus laevigatus


Crocus tournefortii

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 S. Intertexti 

Crocus fleischeri

 S. Biflori 

Crocus pestalozzae


Crocus veneris

 S. Aleppici  

Crocus boulosii


Crocus aleppicus


 S. Reticulati  

Crocus gargaricus subsp. herbertii

 S. Biflori 

Crocus Leichtlinii


Crocus kerndorffiorum

 S. Biflori 

Crocus biflorus subsp. pseudonubigena


Crocus biflorus subsp. taurii


Crocus aerius


Crocus biflorus subsp. artvinensis


Crocus almehensis

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 S. Speciosi 

Crocus speciocus subsp. ilgazensis

 S. S. 

Crocus speciocus subsp. xantholaimos

 S. S. 

Crocus speciocus subsp. speciocus

 S. S. 

Crocus pulchellus

 S. Reticulati  

Crocus cancellatus subsp. lycius

 S. R. 

Crocus cancellatus subsp. mazziaricus

 S. R. 

Crocus cancellatus subsp. damascenus

 S. R. 

Crocus angustifolius

 S. R. 

Crocus gargaricus subsp. gargaricus

 S. R. 

Crocus seheanus

 S. Biflori 

Crocus nerimaniae

 S. B. 

Crocus cyprius

 S. B. 

Crocus biflorus subsp. biflorus

 S. B. 

Crocus biflorus subsp. melantherus

 S. Reticulati 

Crocus cancellatus subsp. cancellatus


Crocus cancellatus subsp. pamphylicus

 S. Reticulati 

Crocus x jessopae


Crocus ancyrensis


Crocus abantensis

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 S. Crocus 

Crocus hermoneus


Crocus reticulatus subsp. hittiticus


Crocus hartmannianus

 S. Biflori 

Crocus biflorus subsp. crewii


Crocus biflorus subsp. adamii


Crocus wattiorum


Crocus biflorus subsp. isauricus


Crocus chrysanthus

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 S. Biflori 

Crocus reticulatus subsp. reticulatus


Crocus chrysanthus


Crocus biflorus subsp. alexandri


Crocus chrysanthus


Crocus biflorus subsp. weldenii


Crocus danfordiae


Crocus biflorus subsp. nubigena


Crocus biflorus subsp. punctatus


Crocus pulchricolor


Crocus biflorus subsp. stridii


Crocus biflorus subsp. leucostylosus

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Were examined five regions of the plastid - DNA : The three genes encoding proteins ndhF, accD and rpoC1 and the two non-coding sections trnH psbA and rpl36-RPS8. 86 of the 88 Crocus species and 50 subspecies were included in the analysis , plus Babiana stricta , Tigrida pavonia , Syringodea bifucata , Romulea tempskyana and Romulea ramiflora as the outer group.


Crocuses are among the first flowers in spring. Their flowering time begins in late winter ( Crocus tommasinianus ), where they appear even in the last snow in long winters. A few weeks later, the large-flowered varieties bloom. About 30 crocus species are in culture. The best known is probably the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) for the production of saffron. Five main types are cultivated as ornamental plants: Crocus vernus , Crocus chrysanthus , Crocus flavus , Crocus sieberi and Crocus tommasinianus .

Most crocus species should be planted in sunny or partially shaded spots in sandy, well drained soil. However, some species also prefer shady and moist places. Some of them are suitable for naturalization in meadows ( Crocus tommasinianus ). Under certain circumstances, they can become "weeds" in rock gardens.

Crocus as an astronym

The asteroid (1220) Crocus is named after the genus.


Some crocus species are sorted by flower color and in alphabetical order of scientific names. Here the color and the flowering time H - autumn flowering, F - spring (winter flowering) is not always clearly indicated.

Flower color white

Flower color purple - blue

Flower color yellow


  • SI Ali, Brian Mathew: Crocus. In: Flora of Pakistan , Volume 202 ( online )
  • Jānis Rukšāns: The World of Crocuses. The Latvian Academy of Sciences, January 2017, ISBN 9789934191251 , 568 pages.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Jānis Rukšāns: The World of Crocuses. The Latvian Academy of Sciences, January 2017, ISBN 9789934191251 , 568 pages.
  2. Hjalmar Frisk : Greek etymological dictionary. 3 volumes, Heidelberg 1960–1972, Volume I, p. 23
  3. ^ Brian Mathew: Crocus: A Revision of the Genus Crocus. Timber Press, 1983, ISBN 0-917304-23-3 .
  4. a b c Gitte Petersen, Ole Seberg, Sarah Thorsøe, Tina Jørgensen, Brian Mathew: A phylogeny of the genus Crocus (Iridaceae) based on sequence data from five plastid regions. In: Taxon , Volume 57, Issue 2, May 2008, pages 487-499.
  5. Rafaël Govaerts (ed.): Crocus. In: World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP) - The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  6. Lorenzo Peruzzi, Angelino Carta, Crocus ilvensis sp. nov. (sect.Crocus, Iridaceae), endemic to Elba Island (Tuscan Archipelago, Italy). In: Nordic Journal of Botany , Volume 29, 2011, pp. 6-13.
  7. Osman Erol, Levent Can, Levent Şık: Crocus demirizianus sp. nov. from northwestern Turkey. In: Nordic Journal of Botany , Volume 30, Issue 6, December 2012, pages 665-667 doi: 10.1111 / j.1756-1051.2012.01684.x

further reading

  • Jānis Rukšāns: Crocuses. A complete guide to the genus. Timber Press, Portland, London, 2010 1-216.
  • Brian Mathew, G. Petersen, O. Seberg: A reassessment of Crocus based on molecular analysis. In: The Plantsman, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2009, pp. 50-57.

Web links

Wiktionary: Krokus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Krokus ( Crocus )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files