We often think of our alpines as being little ‘ jewels of the mountains’ or, like the American writer Claude Barr, ‘jewels of the plains’ but the delicate form of Crocus cambessedesii does indeed strike me as jewel like. Flowering as it does after the great panoply of colour of the autumn Cyclamen, Crocuses, golden Sternbergias and great showy lilac and purple goblets of Colchicum it could well risk being dwarfed by their memory.
However it arrives very gently on the late autumn scene, very occasionally towards he end of October but much more frequently emerging quite unexpectedly after a fresh shower of rain in November followed by a warm ray of sunshine. Brian Mathew states that “it is variable in colour, ranging from white through pale lilac to deep lavender-blue, nearly always with dark purple stripes on the exterior, although it is possible to find white forms in which these are lacking.” So far the forms to come into my possession, either as bulbs or from seed, have appeared fairly uniform in being a pale lavender- lilac on the inner petals while the three outers are beautifully tempered with soft clotted cream overlaid by delicate deep purple feathering.
It is rather too delicate in form to grow in the open garden, although seeming to be perfectly hardy. In Surrey I grow it in an exposed bulb frame, with only winter cover, while I see that Ian Young in Aberdeen also feels that it is frost tolerant. Neither does it seem to be particular about soil composition, seeding gently into gravely Bagshot sand plus the odd handful of Vitax Q4.
Crocus cambessedesii seems to be the only member of its series - Versicolores - to flower definitely in the autumn. This flowering period, together with the altogether paler colouring, make it exceedingly easy to identify from its closest relatives C. minimus and C.corsicus, together with the fact that C.cambessedesii is confined to the Balearic Islands of Maiorca and Minorca.