Crocus kotschyanus and mixed stocks of bulbs

Jim McKenney
Fri, 20 Oct 2006 16:59:48 PDT

I'm always on the lookout for unusual bulbs in local gardens. One reason
that there are unusual bulbs in local gardens is because in the bad old days
at least some of the bulbs sold in local garden centers were collected
bulbs. The Sternbergia stocks sold twenty years ago are a good example: they
were a mixture of S. lutea and S. clusiana. To this day, whenever anyone
tells me they grow Sternbergia, I try to visit when they are in bloom to see
which Sternbergia they are. 


An associate had Sternbergia clusiana which he had acquired this way. He
didn't know what it was. Unfortunately, he and I had had a spat, and as I
waited years for things to mellow between us, the Sternbergia clusiana
eventually disappeared (this species is very prone to bulb fly in our area).


Twelve years ago another friend moved into a new neighborhood. While
visiting him one autumn - as usual in a rush - I noticed a clump of Crocus
kotschyanus in his next door neighbor's yard. I only got a quick glimpse,
but something about those flowers seemed different. They seemed to have
pointed tepals, much more so than the ones in my own garden. 


Every year for the past twelve years I've been reminding my friend to ask
his neighbors if I may have some of those crocus. The house has changed
hands two or three times over the years. 


I mentioned it again this year in late September. This year I finally got my
wish. My friend called and told me that the crocus were blooming freely this
year (the good news), but that the owners had just mowed the grass and
demolished the crocus flowers. He collected a flower for me to examine.


So today I went over hoping to finally close this chapter. There was a
slightly shop worn flower to examine, and the neighbors agreed to let me dig
some of the crocus - whose location was now identifiable only by the white
stubs poking out of the ground. I came home with some corms grow on.


Something about the shape of those flowers as I remembered it from long ago
made me hope they might be Crocus kotschyanus suvorowianus. But the somewhat
mangled flower I examined didn't convince me. Perhaps it is simply one
extreme of Crocus kotschyanus kotschyanus. If the corms I collected today
bloom next year, I'll have a better idea. Whatever it is, it's a bit
different than what I have now. 


This discussion we're having about cultivars of Crocus speciosus reminds me
that C. kotschyanus is a species which, from a horticultural point of view,
could use some selecting. Five variants are commonly available, or maybe I
should say commonly distributed. The four are a) the good typical form b)
the non-flowering form c) an odd form which rarely flowers but when it does
produces stringy, misshapen flowers - this might be the same as the one here
described as "non-flowering" d) the form sold under the name "albus" which
as I know it is a dirty gray-white and e) the form without yellow spots at
the base of the tepals - this is the one once called "leucopharynx"; this is
a good form but evidently because it has lost its botanical standing, it is
now shunned. We should be trying to ensure its survival. 


In response to the muddle suggested above, two other forms are sometimes
offered: 'Reliant' (or is it 'Reliance'?) which is reputed to flower
dependably; and Jane McGary offers a form under the name JRJK which produces
large handsome flowers. 


Now we should get busy trying to select and establish more color variants
for this easily grown species. 

The color of even the best forms is opalescent; something a bit more
pronounced would be nice. 


Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the autumn crocus
season has so far been too wet for me. 


My Virtual Maryland Garden


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