Immigrant Garden Plants – Where Do Crocus Bulbs Come From

By Mary Ellen Ellis | February 19, 2021
Image by standret
by Mary Ellen Ellis
February 19, 2021

We have grown accustomed to seeing the bright, cheerful blooms of crocus plants as an early sign of spring and a signal that winter is ending. Do you know the origins of crocus flowers though? These beloved plants have a long and rich history and are actually not native to North America. 

Where Do Crocus Bulbs Come From?

There are about 75 species of crocus, which is a genus of flowering plants. When you buy crocus bulbs to plant, these are actually corms. A corm is a fleshy part of the stem that grows underground. Its purpose is to store food and it is different from a true bulb or a tuber, although it looks similar to both. 

Crocus corms that you can easily buy at the garden center are cultivated in the U.S., but the true origins of these flowers are farther afield. Crocus species are native to Europe, especially southern Europe, the Alps, and the Mediterranean region. They are also native over much of Asia. 

Crocus History Fun Facts

The history of crocus flowers dates back probably thousands of years. Some of the earliest references to crocus come from Bronze Age Greece, about 3,500 years ago as well as ancient Egypt. Here are some other interesting crocus history facts:

  • The stamens of autumn blooming crocus are used for saffron, dyes, food, and medicine since ancient times. It takes about 4,000 dried stamens from the crocus to make just one ounce of saffron. 
  • Ancient Egyptians and Greeks cultivated crocus flowers for saffron
  • Crocus is mentioned in the Old Testament, in the Song of Solomon. 
  • Roman women died their hair and clothing with saffron. 
  • In ancient Europe, crocus corms were traded as a form of currency. 
  • In medieval Europe monks used saffron in place of gold when illuminating texts. 
  • Dutch gardeners began cultivating crocus and developing new varieties in the 16th century. 
  • New crocus varieties and cultivation flourished in Britain in the Elizabethan era. 
  • The earliest settlers in North America brought crocus plants and corms with them. 
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