Bieberstein’s crocus

Crocus speciosus
Bieberstein’s crocus, Crocus speciosus

Bieberstein’s crocus, Crocus speciosus, is native to northern and central Turkey, the Caucasus, northern Iran, and the Crimea, and was first described by Friedrich August Marschall von Bieberstein in Flora Taurico Caucasica (1808-1819).

Born in Stuttgart in 1768 von Bieberstein was primarily a military man working as secretary and later aide-de-camp to the Russian general Count Kochovoski in the Crimea. After meeting the German naturalist, Peter Simon von Pallas, he began to collect plants systematically laying the foundations for his seminal botanical work on the region. In 1795 he returned to St. Petersburg and was sent with the invading forces into Persia. Collecting herbarium specimens all along the way, he published an account of his journey in 1798, which included descriptions of 74 new species.

In 1799, von Bieberstein was appointed privy-councillor responsible for the development of sericulture (rearing of silkworms for the production of silk) in southern Russia, which provided further opportunities to travel and continue his botanical studies. In 1804 he was sent on a scientific mission to Germany and France, which enabled him to study specimens from the Near East in the Tournefort herbarium in Paris and complete his work on first flora of the Crimeo-Caucasian region.

There are over 30 species of crocus which flower in the autumn, most of which originate from Greece, Turkey and Iran. They all require well-drained soil and a dry period in the summer with flowering initiated by the lower temperatures and increasing soil moisture of the autumn. Only four or five species are commonly grown as garden plants, the others are either rare in cultivation or need to be grown in pots or under cover.

At present I only grow Crocus speciosus, one small group shelters under a clump of kniphofia and the other sits by the wall in the cottage garden. They always produce a succession of flowers in early October, which are frequently flattened by the autumn gales. However, this year flowering coincided with a spell of calm, dry weather and their veined, mauve goblets with a shock of orange stigmas, have delighted me for days. It will apparently naturalise readily by producing offsets and seed, but in my garden this appears to be a slow process. I will probably not plant more in the cottage garden, but I shall look for a suitable sheltered crevice in the new rock garden.

Crocus pulchellus is very similar to speciosus, but it has a stronger stem and is less prone to flopping over after rain. It is probable that many of the bulbs sold as autumn flowering crocus in garden centres are Crocus pulchellus x speciosus hybrids, accounting for the more robust nature of some of the named varieties.

In the future I may be tempted to try some of the other autumn flowering species, but the list of bulbs I’d like to grow would fill the greenhouse and cold frames several times over. However, my resilience to temptation is low, especially when I discover a seed list containing interesting species.

12 thoughts on “Bieberstein’s crocus

  1. Oh so lovely!

  2. Your title made me seek out my A-level TS Eliot for totally irrelevant reasons…. So, autumn crocus are one of your (previously) secret obsessions….. I can certainly see the attraction of the contrast between the shockingly orange and the purple 😉

    • Most years they are just a wet purple blob, but this year what a transformation. An absolute joy when there is very little else.

      • Wet purple blob… like my colchicums quickly become! My Mum was telling me on the phone today that she has been getting a new purple blob every day or so this week, and yet she didn’t think she had p[lanted any autumn crocuses at all!

        • Just before the tempest I had a quick look at the garden and found a few more clumps – must be the wee folk at work in your Mum’s garden too.

  3. I love your first photo and am wondering if I can find somewhere for some up here. After all if they grow for you I might be able to. mmmmm…..

    • It is always a gamble whether the flowers will be a victim of either the wind or the rain, but if flowering coincides with some dry calm weather it makes up for all the years when you get a wet purple blob. They seem to flower over quite a long period, so there is always a chance that you will have flowers to enjoy. They are not expensive to buy, so you could try several clumps in different parts of the garden. I am quite enthused, but can’t buy anymore until next year as I am under a bulb buying ban!

  4. Thank you for all the information about Bieberstein, this is the kind of post that I really enjoy. I had forgotten all about my autumn crocus and just went out to have a look and there they are blooming away. They are lovely but as you say they do collapse quickly in wet weather.
    I’ m always disappointed with my colchicums for the same reason. I can’ t think why anyone bothers with Colchicum ‘ Water Lily’ . It is so short- lived and looks so revolting when it collapses. The Autumn crocus is much more refined and delicate .

    • I’m interested in the history of plants too, and when a plant is named after someone I just have to try and discover more.
      I am not a fan of colchicums at all, they’re just a little too flamboyant for my taste and always seem to be a floppy mess!

      • I agree but I do love Colchicum speciosum ‘ Album’. It is very special.

  5. Those are a beautiful colour. I am not keen on colchicums either, but mostly because off their huge leaves. I must try some of these. I planted some crocus sativus last year, but so far they haven’t flowered. I am wondering whether they are going to.

    • I’m sure they would do well for you provided your soil is well drained. My crocus bulbs tend to disappear if the mice find them!

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