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THE CROCUS
(CIGDEM AND SAFRAN)

The crocus is a beautiful flower that brings to mind survival and strength due to its ability to stand up against harsh mountain winds. The crocus or ‘Colchicum’ by its Latin name, seen more often toward the end of the winter in the foothills of the mountains and at higher and colder elevations. Crocuses appear to be delicate, but they are not blown away by the slightest gust of wind. No flower can surpass them in resistance to cold temperatures and harsh winds. Crocuses, which symbolize life under severe conditions seem to have been created expressly to brighten up the environment with their vibrant colors.

Crocuses are among one of the first few plant species that bloom in the winter. They spring up as colonies during autumn on hills and plains. The rainbow of hues and tones colors the bare earth with shades of yellow, purple, pink, white and blue where the snow had just begun to melt. These crocuses, usually purple and pink in color are known as 'autumn crocuses,' which remind us that winter is slowly coming in. The seeds and bulbs of autumn crocuses grow some 10-30 cm tall, contain various alkaloids, including mainly Colchis, and are therefore extremely poisonous. Colchis meanwhile is used to treat rheumatism and gout, and it is also being employed in cell and genetic research.

Turkey boasts 59 natural species of the crocus, which is indigenous to Eurasia. Nearly 30 species of this flower, which is found in almost every part of the country, are unique to Turkey. The ‘Istanbul crocus’ (Crocus olivieri subsp. istanbulensis) is one of them. This brilliant yellow crocus, which is found around Tasdelen and Ömerli, grows only in this region of the world. The Kadiköy 'Bitter Crocus' (Colchicum chalcedonicum), which blooms in September, also made Istanbul its home. Discovered in 1911 by botanist Kevork Vicen Aznavur, who introduced it to the botanical literature, this species is found more often on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, in the Pendik-Kartal area. It is also encountered on the city’s European side between Alibeyköy and Ikitelli.

The buds of the crocus, a bulbous plant, appear in spring and autumn. They blossom quickly and after blooming for about two weeks they open their leaves completely, thus concluding their growth cycle. When the weather begins to warm up, they fade and wither. But this is not a destructive process.Thanks to the bulbs, which function as plant storage depots, they continue to live underground in a dormant state until the next year. The crocus bulbs sold by florists are in exactly this state, which means that you can grow colorful crocuses in pots either in your garden or in your home. But there is one thing you must be careful of, namely that the ones that bloom in autumn have to be planted in June and the others in either late summer or early autumn.

Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, is the stigma of the 'Crocus sativus,' another member of the crocus family. More than 225 such stigma are needed to produce just half a kilo of saffron, which was widely used in the Ottoman period. Saffron, which is obtained from the light purple crocuses that bloom in September and October, is a plant that has been raised for centuries in Anatolia as much as a spice and dye for medicinal purposes. The records indicate that saffron production in past centuries reached as high as ten tons. Although it was produced most widely in Safranbolu (city of saffron), which is named for it, saffron was also grown around Istanbul, Tokat, Izmir, Adana and Sanliurfa. Cultivated only in a small area of the village of Davutobasi near Safranbolu today, saffron is used not only in food but also in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

The crocus, which is popularly known in Anatolia by names such as 'kalkgit,' 'vargit,' and 'mahmurcicegi' (get-up-and-go or sleepy flower), has also given its name to a number of Anatolian highlands. One of the best-known among them is the magnificent Cigdem Yaylasi (Crocus Highland) at 1400 meters on the forested plateau of Mount Elmacik in Adapazari province. These flowers cover the terrain in yellow and purple during the winter and spring and in pink and lilac in autumn. The crocus cover is so dense that you can hardly take a step without treading on one.

Reference: Ali Ihsan Gokcen / SKYLIFE

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