Saffron Crocus Plant Profile

The stigma of this plant are where the expensive spice saffron comes from

Close up of a purple Saffron Crocus

Dejan Cavic / EyeEm / Getty Images

Saffron is a highly prized, crimson red spice used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. It's the most expensive spice by weight anywhere in the world. Commonly harvested in the Mediterranean and then all the way to the mountains of Kashmir, many people don't realize this spice is produced from the dried stigma of a crocus variety.

The Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) is a surprisingly easy-to-grow flower that adds a splash of color in the fall, when this plant blooms. You can collect the stigmas to produce your own saffron, but be aware that it takes at least 150 to 200 flowers to produce around just one gram of this spice. Don't be expecting a bumper harvest!

Botanical Name Artemisia dracunculus (Sativa subspecies)
Common Name Estragon
Plant Type Perennial herb
Mature Size 24 inches
Sun Exposure Part Sun/Part Shade
Soil Type Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral (6.5 to 7.5)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Light green leaves
Hardiness Zones 4 and above
Native Area Temperate Europe and Asia
Setting our saffron crocus bulbs in a put
Planting Saffron crocus bulbs can be planting in late summer, fall. © Jackie Bale / Getty Images
Plate of saffron threads with a Saffron crocus on top
Hundreds of flowers are needed to create even just a tiny amount of Saffron, but the flowers look beautiful even if you don't plan to harvest the stigmas. Chris Griffiths / Getty Images

How to Grow Saffron Crocus

Fall is the time to plant your Saffron Crocus bulbs, and it's also the time when you can expect to see the first bloom on this perennial flower.

For the best results with this plant, pick a site that gets plenty of direct sunlight and has a well-drained sandy, loamy soil. This easy-to-care-for plant doesn't need a lot of attention or watering.

Saffron Crocus bulbs don't tend to be available in many run-of-the-mill garden centers, so you may have to order them from a specialist.

Light

The Saffron Crocus prefers a full sun or very light shade location. Without at least four to six hours of direct sun during bloom time, you run the risk of being disappointed with the crop.

Soil

This plant isn't incredibly picky about soil type. It does need to be well-draining though, and best results are seen in a loamy, humus-rich type.

Water

The Sativus crocus variety goes dormant in the summer. You shouldn't water them throughout this period.

As you would expect from a plant that is typically grown in arid regions, they don't need a lot of watering in general. Once established, they're relatively drought-tolerant and too much moisture can damage or rot the bulbs.

If you have a particularly dry spell, light watering will be required, but, other than this, they'll cope will with just natural rainfall.

Temperature and Humidity

Saffron Crocus thrive in a continental climate where there's a definite difference in the seasons. They do best when summers are hot and dry. Too much humidity is a big problem for this plant.

If they're subject to very harsh, freezing winter conditions, the bulbs won't grow as well, and this could result in poor flowering. Mulching around the plants with straw or compost can help to protect them if you expect the temperatures to drop significantly.

Fertilizer

Incorporating an organic fertilizer into the soil when you're planting Saffron Crocus bulbs can be advantageous.

After they're established, you could treat them annually with fertilizer, but, with the right conditions, they probably won't require any to be added.

Propagating Saffron Crocus

A sterile plant that can't reproduce by seeds, it propagates through the multiplication of its bulbs (called corms). This means more corms will naturally develop underneath the soil.

It's a good idea to dig up the bulbs and separate the old corms from the new one every few years. Replanting after this will encourage healthy growth by preventing overcrowding and ensuring that the bulbs remain deep enough in the soil.

Any replanting can be done in the summer during the dormancy period.

Harvesting

The first year after planting, your Saffron Crocus won't produce its best bloom. If you plan to harvest the stigmas, it's best to wait until the second or third year. By then, the plant is more established, and the flowering will likely be optimal.

Harvesting just after the flowers have opened on a dry morning is important. Each flower has three stigmas that can be carefully removed using a pair of tweezer before being dried out for use.

Being Grown in Containers

Crocus bulbs are easy to grow in containers. It can actually be handy if you experience particularly harsh winters. It allows you to move the containers to a warmer location when the frosts hit.

Plant the bulbs in the pot in the fall, before any frosts arrive. The pot should be relatively deep and spacious. You want the bulbs to sit at least three inches apart. There should be at least five inches of soil on the base and a further three inches over the top of the bulbs.

The pot can be buried into the ground at this point, but should always be lifted out to be stored indoors before the freezing temperatures arrive.

Once indoors, no watering will be required during this dormancy period.