This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
The Purple Crocus is a southern plant found in Mid and S. Europe, and not earlier in the N. Temperate Zone. It is naturalized in Notts and Middlesex, and a few other places in England and Ireland.
Like the Yellow Crocus, which is found likewise in meadows in Warwick, Stafford, Salop, Notts, Derby, Chester, S. Lanes, S.W. Yorks, the Purple Crocus is but naturalized, and though established in the localities now known for it, it was doubtless an escape originally.
It grows in wet low-lying meadows by the margin of rivers in central and S. England.
This short-stemmed plant (the aerial stem is really a scape) is characterized by its bulb-like stem base, with fibrous coats, broad and flattened. The sheaths of the leaves are netlike, torn, dirty brown, and enclose the scape The leaves are radical leaves, linear, furrowed, white below.
The flowers are purple and appear with the leaves. They are borne on erect scapes with hairs. The mouth of the flower is closed with hairs, and the segments are blunt. The stigmas, which are deep-orange colour, are expanded. The anthers are bright-yellow. The capsule is on a long, slender flower-stalk with small red seeds.
It is 6 in. in height. The flowers open in April. It is a perennial plant propagated by division of the roots.
In Crocus vernus honey is secreted by the ovary and rises in the tube, which is narrow and filled up by the style, nearly to the expanded mouth. Long-lipped Lepidoptera alone can reach it. The anthers ripen first. The ovary remains below the soil and is thus protected. The anthers dehisce away from the centre or extrorsely, and the stigmas unfold afterwards and touch an insect alighting on the petals. The stigmas are branched. Humble-bees can only skim the surface of the nectary. The flowers being violet (or white) indicate adaptation to pollination by night-flying insects.
The Purple Crocus is visited by the Silver Y Moth (Plusia gamma), Painted Lady (Pyrameis cardui), which cross-pollinate it. If unvisited, the grooved stigmas passing between the anthers are dusted with pollen and the plant is self-pollinated.
The seeds, which are small, are contained in a capsule which opens above and allows the seeds to be jerked out by the wind.
Photo. J. H. Crabtree - Purple Crocus (Crocus officinalis, Huds.)
The Crocus is a sand plant requiring a sand soil or sandy loam with some clay and humus.
Purple Crocus is infested with Bulb Sclerotinia (Sclerotinia bulbosum).
Crocus, Theophrastus, is the latinized form of the Greek name of the plant and its product saffron; and the second Latin name refers to its use in medicine.
It was supposed to inspire love. There is a proverb as to unexpected results: "You set saffron and there came up wolfsbane".
Purple Crocus was used for garlands in Greece.
This flower is said "to blow before the shrine at vernal dawn of St. Valentine".
It was sacred to Juno. It is, or was, considered unlucky to pluck it in Germany, and said to draw away the strength.
It was used for consumption and lung diseases. The Purple Crocus ripens its seeds more readily than the yellow, and after the mature ovary has lain buried in the soil it rises above the ground when ripe.
It is much cultivated and planted in gardens, where it is a useful border plant. Saffron is used by painters and dyers for pigments. It is also used in sauces, creams, biscuits, preserves, liqueurs, etc.
Essential Specific Characters: 297. Crocus officinalis, Huds. - Leaves radical, linear, channelled, flowers purple, appearing with the leaves, stigmas dilated.