You may have noticed during extreme summer heat (think 110° and up) trees, shrubs and flowers go into dormancy. The physiological functions of the plants cease as the plant goes dormant in an effort to stay alive. Plants have one agenda, regardless of the season; when coming out of dormancy they bloom.
When I think of early flowering bulbs, Crocuses are inevitably the first flower to come to mind; so early in fact, they are often pictured surrounded by melting snow. Grass-like foliage is the first to emerge from the ground, followed by a narrow, cup-shaped flower on a single, 3-4 inch stem.
Crocus vernus (most garden varieties being of this species) is native to southern Europe, Asia and the Middle East; no known species hail from the Americas. Coming from the cradle of civilization, this bulb has been acknowledged in art and literature for thousands of years. Saffron, pollen from the stigmata of Crocus sativus, was and is an important commodity in many parts of the world.
Mythology cloaks Crocus with a common theme of lost love and tragedy manifesting in flower form, however crocus bears another account concerning Valentine, a Christian physician of the 3rd Century, jailed for his religious beliefs. Valentine treated, befriended and loved the blind daughter of a jailer. Walking on pleasant days, they would pluck crocuses from the field to take her father.
Being prepared for execution on Feb. 14, Valentine wrote a note to his beloved, adding a pressed Crocus blossom to the message. When the girl opened the card, the flower fell out and miraculously her sight was restored. (This Valentine is only one of three men that our modern celebrations of Feb. 14 may stem from.)
While writers like Homer, Emily Bronte, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have honored this small, open-cupped flower in timeless verse; gardeners like you and I honor it by including it in our plantings. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-8, Crocus is generally planted in fall. It is wonderful for naturalizing, but foliage should be allowed to naturally yellow (a six-week process) before cutting or mowing plantings.
In the Language of Flowers, Crocus signifies the gladness of youth, mirth and hope; is that not how gardeners feel in spring? If you are a gardener and are not feeling the excitement of another season about to unfold, maybe you need to plant some Crocus.
LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct any questions to her, especially about tree selection, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.