Spotlight plant of the month for March: Crocus
Many people have their own ways of measuring when the change over to spring is imminent. Perhaps it is the migration of the geese. In California, it might be the return of the swallows at Capistrano. For me, it is when the first cheery blooms of the crocus appear.
True, there are plants that have already started to bloom by the time the crocus get with the program: Winter aconite, snowdrops, and even some shrubs have already started to bloom in our region. But, my personal sign that the arrival of spring is just around the corner is when these friendly little cupped flowers start strutting their stuff.
Crocus come in what my kids used to call, “Easter colors”: Sky blue, striped purple on lavender, white, lavender, deepest purple, and buttery yellow, and all with the pretty orange stamens. They probably remind me so much of Easter merely by their colors, that this is the reason why I consider them to be spring’s calling card.
Crocus vernus, or Dutch crocus, are those huge, goblet-shaped crocus that most of us are familiar with. Planted in drifts, they are a sight for sore eyes after a long, harsh winter. Planted in the lawn, they are stunning! The only drawback is that lawns cannot be mowed for about six weeks after bloom time. The crocus are forming little cormlets. They are also storing food in the mother corms for next year’s bulbs. That is not a practical situation for many homeowners. So, naturalize them in the woods, or in the flower beds. They are just as stunning!
Those little bunching crocus, Crocus chrysanathus, or the Snow Crocus, have daintier flowers and are also smaller than the Dutch crocus. They are little miniature bouquets. Usually at least three flowers will break from one corm. They are also a bit earlier to bloom than the larger Dutch varieties. Another small variety to consider is Crocus tommasinianus, which sports many lovely blue and purple flowers.
Looks are deceiving! These perky little posies are anything but dainty! Often, as is usual in this neck of the woods, a warm stretch of weather late in the winter will coax them into blooming. Just as they start to hit their stride, they will often get walloped by a cold snap or snowstorm. Or so it may seem.
These little plants are so resilient, that only a truly bitter spell will cut their season short. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often this time of the year. Dips into the low twenties and snow on the plants usually won’t stop them once their blooming cycle is underway. When I think about it, that is precisely why I consider them to be the true heralds of spring!
Planting is easy: Just plant them in the fall, and the following spring, they will arrive. The first year they might wake up a little later than usual, but after that, they will greet you when you need that shot-in-the arm the most! Like any endearing plant, they will spread and grow, but never become a nuisance. What a better way to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring than with a few cheerful crocus!