Jim McKenney
Fri, 07 Nov 2014 07:47:34 PST
I take exception to several aspects of Jim Waddick's post about saffron. 

He wrote " Crocus corms are replaced each year. Blooming corms fade away after dormancy. "

By the time the new corms are entering dormancy the old corms are already gone, whatever goodness left in them having been absorbed into the new corms. 

Also "New corms contain all the elements of the next year’s growth including flowers. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but maybe it needs to be restated.  So any Crocus corms bought in the fall contain the bloom for next bloom season whether that fall or next spring."

This is misleading. Had it been written about a hyacinth, daffodil or tulip, it would have been true. But those flowers grow from true bulbs. Crocuses grow from corms. We've all probably seen those photos of tulip or hyacinth bulbs cut open to reveal the developing flowers. If you cut a corm in the same way, all you'll see is seemingly undifferentiated tissue. That's because a corm is a piece of condensed stem: it corresponds to what is sometimes called the basal plate of a true bulb. 

Waddick's statement that "New corms contain all the elements of the next year’s growth including flowers" is true only if by "elements" you include embryonic tissues. If you cut into the sprout emerging from a corm you are not likely to make out with the naked eye  anything which looks like a flower unless you are cutting shortly before the plant comes into bloom.

Waddick wrote "the true saffron comes ONLY from C. sativus."  If you are talking about commercial saffron, this is probably true. It is widely believed that commercial saffron is a clone: i.e. millennia ago one seed germinated from which grew the plant we now call saffron. Over the centuries it has varied a bit, just as ancient wine grapes and garlics have, to produce slightly different forms.  
Commercial saffron, although it has a botanical name, is not a true species. Nowhere in the world does it exist as a sexually reproducing population. 
However, cultivated saffron had to come from somewhere, and while taxonomists have never agreed about precisely which true species saffron is derived, the point is that when true saffron arose there already existed about a half dozen true species of crocus which produce similar long, fragrant styles which can be used the way those of commercial saffron are.  Furthermore, some of these other species grow in parts of the world where crocus corms are collected and consumed by humans. Surely people on the lookout for food in ancient times watched for the autumnal flowering of the crocuses to identify the sites where digging would likely produce good results. And anyone handling the blooms surely must have noticed the aroma and perhaps also that the color bleeds from wet styles. 
I'm postulating that for centuries people collected and used the styles of various crocuses of the saffron group long before the plant we know as saffron existed. Perhaps they even cultivated the plants after centuries of collection reduced wild populations. Eventually, somewhere, the plant we know as saffron appeared, maybe as a cultivated plant, maybe as a wild plant. Once that plant became widely cultivated, the need to collect wild plants ended. The saffron we use today is the only survivor of that ancient tradition, but it's certainly not the only one which produces "saffron".

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where most of the several species of the saffron group of  crocuses I grow are finished for this year. 
pbs mailing list

More information about the pbs mailing list