The crocus flower is a genus of roughly 80 species – about 30 of which are cultivars – in the family iridaceae. These flowers are native to Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, as well as southern and Central Europe, and blossom in both spring and fall. Crocuses, which are mostly hardy perennial plants, can grow from 2 to 6 inches in height from corms, which can produce between 1 to 5 separate blossoms. The foliage of this plant is grassy in appearance, and forms a thin white stripe along the axis. The flowers themselves are formed in a distinctive cup-shape that tapers into a tube at the stem. They come in shades of purple and lavender, yellow and white.
The first noted cultivation of the crocus flower was said to have occurred in regions of the Mediterranean, mostly in the area of Crete. But the Greek affinity for the crocus flower likely started well before its commercial harvesting began, as these plants appear in many pieces of myth. In one story, the mortal Krokus began an affair with a beautiful nymph named Smilax. Krokus became bored of his nymph and began to wander. To punish him for his infidelity, the gods turned Krokus into the immobile crocus flower. An alternative version of this story tells of Krokus becoming so enamored with Smilax that the gods granted them both immortality by turning them into two crocus flowers growing in the same field. Yet another myth states that on one spring day the god Zeus made love to Hera on a river bank. It is said that the heat of their passion caused the earth to shake, thus causing the bank to burst forth with stunning purple and white crocus flowers. In addition to being the focus of several Greek myths, crocuses have also become the inspiration to a number of artists. These blossoms have found their way into the paintings of many modern artists – from the striking realism of Glen Loates’ “Crocus,” to the unusual, colorful work of Nancy Nuce’s “Spring Crocuses.”
Symbolically, the crocus flower tends to represent gladness and cheerfulness, as well as a sense of youthful, innocent joy. As a gift, these flowers are often given to represent that same joy – to express a passion for life. They are also given as thank you gifts, or tokens of friends – as if to say, “I am glad that you are in my life.”