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Crocus Group


The Crocus Group is (historically) a splinter group from the British Iris Society.   It is a very loose assemblage of persons with a shared interest in the genus Crocus.   The group has no formal constitution and currently there is no annual subscription for membership.   There is a joining fee of UK five pounds sterling, and occasionally, if funds get low the committee may call on members to make a further contribution toward running costs.

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The Group is very informal, and for 21 years from its formation in 1974 was organised by the efforts of one person, the much missed plantswoman Primrose Warburg. Since 1996 the Group's activities have been organised by several of   the members. These are:-

Patron    -        who could not possibly be anyone other than Brian Mathew, the guru of Crocus, who kindly keeps us updated with botanical and taxonomic information.

Committee -   two of our members

Secretary -    Tony Goode

If you are interested in joining The Crocus Group please email Tony Goode for more information

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The main activities of the Group are:-

  1. Production of two newsletters annually in the early Spring and late Summer, where details will be found of all the other activities as well as articles by members and other information.
  2. Arranging visits in the Spring and Autumn to see Crocus collections, gardens and other places that may be of interest to members.
  3. A sale and auction of Crocus corms in the dormancy period for Crocus in the early autumn.
  4. A seed exchange that gets seed to and from the members at the optimum time for sowing to ensure good germination, this being as soon as possible after seed ripening.
  5. Awarding a trophy known as the Crocus Spoon to the best pan of Crocus in an AGS show each year.

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Some thoughts on Crocus sieberi by Alan Edwards

This note was penned on 9th January 1999, a day of phenomenal winter warmth in the UK which brought Brimstone and Peacock butterflies out to enjoy the sunshine ( 14 deg C in Westhumble and 15 deg C in London, a level unsurpassed since 1841 ). The sustained mildness of recent weeks has encouraged my winter and vernal Crocus to be more precocious this year to the extent that today I was able to record a total of   23 taxa in flower in the greenhouses and 5 in the garden.

Among those in pots were representatives of   the tribe of C. sieberi including a curious form from Didima in the NE of the Peloponnese which manifests an ability to commence flowering in the third week of November and continues intermittently until mid January. My corms of this eccentric were raised from seed collected by Melvyn Jope in 1993. On a subsequent autumn visit to the site he found plants in flower but in cultivation his material flowered in the spring.

I have examined the flowers but can find no trace of pubescence in the throat which suggests that it is a form of subsp. nivalis which normally should not extend much further north than the outliers of Mt. Taygetos. However, I have also just examined some C. sieberi collected on Mt. Kerketion, west of Trikala in N. Greece ( in the heart of subsp. sublimis territory ) which also lack pubescence in the throat so I am thoroughly confused and leads me to question the validity of separating the two subspecies by the presence or absence of throat hairs or even on the basis of geographical range.

During a visit to the Langada Pass between Kalamata and Sparta in late May 1998 we discovered that the woodland floor of the towering and vast forests of Black Pine that clothe this northern section of the Taygetos range was full of presumed subsp. nivalis. I found it intriguing that this subsp. can also be seen in a totally different environment only a few kilometres away to the south among the melting snows and screes of the summit slopes of Mt. Taygetos ( Prophitis Ilias ) at 2000m. In the conifer forests of the Langada Pass subsp. nivalis has adapted to life not only under a canopy of trees but also bracken. Having such a robust and ubiquitous companion calls for some very precise timing in the process of maturation. This was exemplified by finding plants with near ripe seed capsules just as the new seasons bracken shoots were emerging and expanding.         Alan Edwards

I certainly sympathise with Alan's comments above, as I too have been examining the throats of   sieberi taxa for pubescence with mixed findings. Looking at representatives of subspecies atticus, nivalis and sublimis from many different collections and sites I am beginning to wonder whether throat pubescence is variable in all these taxa. Mind you, these hairs are difficult to see even with x15 magnification. DBS

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Crocus medius by David Stephens

I have at least three different stocks of Crocus medius in cultivation here, obtained from various sources over the years. Two of these are probably the same stock, being a commercial clone of some antiquity in the UK. I also have a stock which originated from the garden of Cedric Morris, though whether it was originally a wild collection of his own or his friends, or is yet again more stock of the old commercial clone, I do not know.

What I do know, is that I believe that the old commercial clone(s) of medius in the UK are virused. All the forms I grow and have seen look alike, and all have a curious reddish streak running through the background colour of the segments. I have wanted to grow 'clean' medius from plants or seeds of known wild origin for a long time, but there appeared to be little to no collections of known provenance from which to draw material in the UK.

Also, I had been fascinated by an obscure article published by a botanist in the journals of an Italian Botanic garden which sought to rename medius on the grounds that the herbarium specimens of the type plant were actually conspecific with nudiflorus. He suggested the name ligusticus, as the whole of the known wild range of the plant lies within the Italian province of Liguria. There are he says two distinct populations based on the Alpic calcareous and Appeninic serpenticolous areas that they grow.

If you look at a map of the Riviera border between France and Italy, just on the border is a town called Roqquebrunne (there are various spellings). This is the most westerly point at which medius will be found, growing in the hills above the town, or at least that was the case in the early part of this century, it is pretty much built over now. The coast road eastwards through the Italian Riviera for the next 75 miles or so to Genoa is paralleled inland by the ranges of the Alps. If you take any road going north from the coast road in the whole stretch between the French/Italian border and Genoa, you are likely to find medius. After Genoa, the coast turns south into the main body of Italy, and there is a gap where no medius grows between where the Alps come to an end and the Northern Appenines start. The second place where populations of medius are found is in a smaller area than the Alpic (as opposed to alpine which has a different meaning) populations, being found at various points inland from the coast into the Northern Appenines for a distance of about 20 miles ending at the town of La Spezia on the Ligurian/Tuscany border.

This last October, I decided to take advantage of one of the cheap flight offers, and took a three day trip to see medius in the wild. I flew to Nice in France where a car was hired and over the next days drove to Genoa and back, exploring inland as I went. Unfortunately there was not time in such a short trip to turn the corner into the Appenines and see those populations.

Well, I have to say that seeing the plant wild in three different stations has left me with a totally different impression from my previous ideas, which were based on the old commercial clone(s). Firstly, the plant is large and vigorous. On first sight I thought I was looking at colchicum as I whizzed past them in the car. Then I realised this wasn't quite right and got out to look more closely. Until you look very closely, the similarity to nudiflorus is striking. Long naked stems up to 25 cm topped by large purplish goblet shaped flowers with huge multi branched orange stigma is the general description. They were mainly   growing in sparse grass on woodland edges at no great altitudes, and were in quite dense populations with closely spaced plants, although as usual with Crocus they grew as individuals and did not form clumps. Flower size and colour variation was quite significant, and none of them looked anything like the commercial clone(s). The plate in Brian's monograph is actually very well observed in all details, particularly if you envisage it as being very large.

Although seemingly confined to one Italian province, the evidence is that it is fairly common in quite a number of stations with no apparent threat to its continued existence. The few corms I took have luckily formed seedpods and now I know where to find them I shall one day return for a large enough seed collection to share with the Crocus Group to enable us all to grow the real thing. In the meantime the few seeds I hope to have available will be in the seed exchange. DBS

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Crocus olivieri by Ray Cobb

Crocus growers are well aware that we have more species, subspecies, formae and cultivars in cultivation than ever before. The pot of Crocus pelistericus which I have before me today would, ten years ago, have been one of my less conceivable aspirations. Crocus paschei was unknown then, but is now proving a very amenable species. Crocus mathewii, with its willingness to set abundant seed, must surely soon appear in commercial bulb lists.

However some species which were formerly common in cultivation seem to be in danger of becoming rare. In the interests of garden plant conservation we must try to ensure that these do not slip through our fingers.   One such species is Crocus olivieri. Crocus olivieri subsp. olivieri used to be readily and cheaply available and I used to be able to rely on having several pots full of its cheerful orange flowers. Now I find I have but few corms, partly due to my attempts (unsuccessful) to establish it in the open garden. Do other growers find that it is becoming more difficult to maintain and increase? And has any member of the Crocus Group grown or ever seen the pale lemon yellow-flowered plant referred to by Brian Mathew as forma balcanicus? Another butter-yellow coloured plant used to be available commercially as C. suterianus 'Jamie'. I have "advertised" for this plant but with no response and I fear it must be lost to cultivation.

And what about subsp. balansae? It used to be readily available from bulb nurseries but has disappeared from many (but not quite all) of the lists. I have only once had access to corms of known wild origin and they grew in the open garden without difficulty. This was a good deep orange form found by Dr. J.R. Marr. Subsequently an even more striking form carrying the cultivar name 'Zwanenberg' became briefly available. I still treasure two remaining corms of this. But why do we not see more of this highly garden-worthy plant?

Finally we have subsp. istanbulensis which was the subject of an article by Andy Byfield in Crocus Bulletin No. 21. I do not know whether this has ever been in cultivation. Plants so named have been offered commercially in the U.K., but those I received were certainly not the true subspecies. Though it is a very rare Crocus in the wild, one must hope that, through the efforts of the Turkish Indigenous Propagation Project, material will be made available to skilled growers.

Ray Cobb

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Crocus in Cyprus, 1998 - By Steve Keeble

Our first trip of 1998 was to Paphos, during the first week of February, this being chosen to coincide with the flowering of Crocus hartmannianus which we successfully located near it's type locality, east of the Troodos mountains. They were very sparingly dotted around a steep, moist area amongst Cistus scrub. The variation between individuals was striking, ranging from a broad purple/black stripe to almost completely dark outer petals, even one strongly feathered one. The ground colour was always a pale mauve with an orange throat and the black anthers confirmed the plants identity.

C. cyprius was found flowering near Platres at around 1200m situated in grassy forest clearings. The summit region, where it would flower weeks later, was at this time under several inches of snow (friends tell us that this extended to much lower levels during unseasonably inclement weather that March). We arrived late in the day and did not see the flowers open, but the reverses all had a very dark stripe, which did not extend to the petal tips. Variation in flower size was evident, as was a range of ground colour from near white to a clear mauve. The orange throat previously observed in

C. hartmannianus appeared to be confined to the tube only, at least from the outside.

Plants found flowering at lower elevations on the rugged, wild and beautiful Akhamas peninsula included Cyclamen persicum, several Muscari, Anemone coronaria, Barlia robertiana, the occasional Orchis and Ophrys with many more orchids promising flower later. The most prolific area for seeing most of these was the coast path westwards from the 'Baths of Aphrodite'. We knew that the autumn flowering Crocus veneris grew in the areas we visited but it's foliage remained undiscovered. This, along with several sightings of Cyclamen cyprium foliage encouraged us to return at the end of the following November. This time Crocus veneris was easily located at several sites within 3 km of Droushia. C. veneris has a small, starry white flower, with fine black lines running from the yellow throat down the tube. Some strongly growing individuals had 5 or 6 leaves, defying one of the features separating it from C. aleppicus It was always in open grassy situations and never amongst exposed rocks, seeming to have a suicidal liking for tracks, particularly bearing in mind the recent tarmacing of many local ones.

We revisited the locations of C. cyprius and C. hartmannianus. Unsurprisingly they were not in evidence but the real surprise was the presence of a C. veneris form (not expected to be found on igneous rocks) at the site of the latter, this time with a fine purple line down the length of the outer segments. Climatic differences from the previous year were evident by the desiccated condition of the Cistus and the sodden state of the soil, perhaps promising a more prolific flowering in 1999.

The aforementioned coastal path again proved worthwhile, with good populations of Narcissus serotinus. The nearby Adonis Trail provided Narcissus tazetta and a sighting of Spiranthes spiralis. Other bulbous plants encountered on the Akhamas peninsula included Scilla autumnalis (profusely), a Muscari along with Cyclamen cyprium which rarely carried more than a couple of flowers and usually none at all. Following a 3 hr drive to Troodos a circuit of the easy 1800 metre altitude summit path revealed several interesting but mostly non-bulbous alpine endemics awaiting the snow. Along the south coast and most dramatic were the huge populations of Narcissus serotinus within Episkopi garrison - no stopping or photography (or goats) allowed here.

Several non-botanical interests were indulged in - wonderful walking country varying from easy strolls to assault courses through gorges and prickly scrub (I should admit that many tens of miles were walked without seeing any interesting plant life, but the scenery was so good that it didn't matter), exceptional local food, archaeological sites - we will have to go back in April to see those orchids we missed!

Essential reading:                     Cyprus - The rough guide - Marc Dubin ISBN 1-85828-182-2

                                    Walking in Cyprus - Donald Brown (A Cicerone Guide) ISBN 1-85284-195-8

                                    Discover Laona - Adrian Akers-Douglas - buy this in Cyprus