The crocus, like the snowdrop, cannot wait for the snow to be off the ground before it pushes up its gay blossoms, and it has thus earned the gratitude of those who are winter weary.
The crocus has a corm instead of a bulb like the snowdrop or daffodil. A corm is a solid, thickened, underground stem, and is not in layers, like the onion. The roots come off the lower side of the corm. The corm of the crocus is well wrapped in several, usually five, white coats with papery tips. When the plant begins to grow the leaves push up through the coats. The leaves are grasslike and may be in number from two to eight, depending on the variety. Each leaf has its edge folded, and the white midrib has a plait on either side, giving it the appearance of being box-plaited on the under side. The bases of the leaves enclosed in the corm coats are yellow, since they have had no sunlight to start their starch factories and the green within their cells. At the center of the leaves appear the blossom buds, each enclosed in a sheath.
The petals and sepals are similar in color, but the three sepals are on the outside, and their texture, especially on the outer side, is coarser than that of the three protected petals. But sepals and petals unite into a long tube at the base. At the very base of this corolla tube, away down out of sight, even below the surface of the ground, is the seed-box, or ovary. From the tip of the ovary the style extends up through the corolla-tube and is tipped with a ruffled three-lobed stigma.
The three stamens are set at the throat of the corolla tube. The anthers are very long and open along the sides. The anthers mature first, and shed their pollen in the cup of the blossom where any insect, seeking the nectar in the tube of the corolla, must become dusted with it. However, if the stigma lobes fail to get pollen from other flowers, they later spread apart and curl over until they reach some of the pollen of their own flower.
Crocus blossoms have varied colors: white, yellow, orange, purple, the latter often striped or feather-veined. And, while many seeds like tiny pearls, are developed in the oblong capsule, yet it is chiefly by its corms that the crocus multiplies. On top of the mother corm of this year develop several small corms, each capable of growing a plant next year. But after two years of this second-story sort of multiplication the young crocuses are pushed above the surface of the ground. Thus, they need to be replanted every two or three years. Crocuses may be planted from the first of October until the ground freezes. They make pretty borders to garden beds and paths. Or they may be planted in lawns without disturbing the grass, by punching a hole with a stick or dibble and dropping in a corm and then pressing back the soil in place above it. The plants will mature before the grass needs to be mowed.
Leading thought—The crocuses appear so early in the spring, because they have food stored in underground storehouses. They multiply by seeds and by corms.
Method—If it is possible to have crocuses in boxes in the schoolroom windows, the flowers may thus best be studied. Otherwise, when crocuses are in bloom bring them into the schoolroom, bulbs and all, and place them where the children may study them at leisure.
1. At what date in the spring have you found crocuses in blossom? Why are they able to blossom so much earlier than other flowers?
2. Take a crocus just pushing up out of its bulb. How many overcoats protect its leaves? What is at the very center of the bulb? Has the flower bud a special overcoat?
3. Describe the leaves. How are they folded in their overcoats? What color are they where they have pushed out above their overcoats? What color are they within the overcoats? Why?
4. Do the flowers or the leaves have stems, or do they arise directly from the bulb?
5. What is the shape of the open crocus flower? Can you tell the difference between sepals and petals in color? Can you tell the difference by their position? Or by their texture above or below? As you look into the flower, which make the points of the triangle, the sepals or the petals?
6. Describe the anthers. How long are they? How many are there? How do they open? What is the color of the pollen? Describe how a bee becomes dusted with pollen. Why does the bee visit the crocus blossom? If she finds nectar there, where is it?
7. Describe the stigma. Open a flower and see how long the style is. How do the sepals and petals unite to protect the style? Where is the seed-box? Is it so far down that it is below ground? How many seeds are developed from a single blossom?
8. How many colors do you find in the crocus flowers? Which are the prettiest in the lawn? Which, in the flower beds?
9. How do the crocus blossoms act in dark and stormy weather? When do they open? How does this benefit them?
10. How do the crocus bulbs multiply? Why do they lift themselves out of the ground and thus need resetting?
11. Describe how to raise crocuses best; the kind of soil, the time of planting, and the best situations.