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Yellow-throated Crocus

Crocus longiflorus  Rafinesque  (Fam: IRIDACEAE.)

Published date of profile: Dec-2003.
Citation: Mifsud S., (Dec-2003) Crocus longiflorus on MaltaWildPlants.com

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Species name :

Crocus longiflorus  Rafinesque

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: No Main Synonyms
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Iridaceae  Juss.
(Iris Family)

Common name(s) :

Yellow-throated Crocus

Maltese name(s) :

Żagħfran selvaġġ skars

Status for Malta :

Sub-Endemic. Found only on the Maltese islands and neighbouring islands or territories


Very Common     Common     Frequent     Scarce     Rare     Very rare     Extinct

Growth form :

Raunkiaer life form: GEOPHYTE (Bulbous/Rhizomatous plants)   
Germination: Dicotyledon

Legal Protection :

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List (1989) :

This species has a threatened status and is listed in the Flora section of the National Red Data Book (Lanfranco, 1989)

Flowering Time :


Habitat :

Grassy land in rocky places and garigues.

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

GEOPHYTE (Bulbous/Rhizomatous plants)


Grassy land in rocky places and garigues.



Localities in Malta:

Very Rare but locally frequent in one area at the South-South West of Malta (ie. Dingli Cliffs, Ghar il-Kbir, Girgenti).

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List 1989:

This species has a threatened status and is listed in the Flora section of the National Red Data Book (Lanfranco, 1989)


Unlikely to be poisonous.

This low (10cm approx) perennial grows from underground brown and fibrous corms. Around the start of Autumn, the vegetative corm start developing the reproductive flower. The flower grows directly from the corm with no real stalks or stems. The stalk-like structure is actually the long neck of the flower. The leaves also grow directly from the corm and strangely they develop fully just at or after blossoming of the flowers.

The leaves are simple and variably long (about 5-10cm), thin (2 to 3mm), have an entire outline and a characteristic central white stripe running longitudinally along the leaf axis. The shape of these leaves is sometimes described as ensiform, hence having the shape of sword-blade.

If the leaf is simple, the flower is not! It is highly coloured, sweet scented, and attractive. It is made up of 6 petals of a pale violet / lilac colour, but no sepals. At the outer side there is a pattern of pinnate dark-violet/purple veins which are less prominent at the inside part of the petal. The petals are mostly un-fused, but they constrict and then join at the 'base' of the flower to form a thin tube which goes further down under the soil to the corn. At along half way its length. the flower tube is protected by a whitish to pale green sheath which also supports the flower neck.

At the zone where the petals constrict to form a tube, hence at a region referred to as the throat, there is a yellow coloration, more prominent from inside of the flower, but still noticable from the exterior. At the throat region, 3 stamens are joined to the 3 petals (= the inner whorl of 6 corolla tepals). The stamens are erect, and have a rod-shaped anther which is bright yellow in colour. The female part is more contrasting, having a bright orange-red colour, prominent, and the style divides to three branches of stigma which have short lobed ends. The style goes down the flower neck until it reaches the ovary located under the soil.

The ovaries develop into the seed capsule (the fruit) which open up in March, when the seeds are ripe. The young fruit can be difficult to locate since it is found at or just above ground level. The fruit capsule is an ovate structure, about 1cm long and dull green. When ripe it splits longitudinally into 3 parts bearing the orange or reddish-brown seeds. The seeds are subspherical in shape and measure about 2mm.

Information, uses and other details

Sub-endemic species

This plant is found in few places around the central Mediterranean region and so it is nearly an endemic species to Malta, or what is referred to as sub-endemic. Apart from Malta it is only found in Egadi islands (West of Sicily), some parts of Sicily and South Italy mostly in Calabria, Murge, Basilic. a Serraneta, Pollino, Sila, Rosarno, Mongiana, Serra S, R nel Salern. (Monte di Stella, Monte Sacro), Bruno and also in Dalmazia. Reports that it was seen in Tunisia, were false. [WWW-42]


Once the leaves have died down, the corms can be lifted and separated for replanting. Seeds may also be sown in pots of sandy soil in the fall and placed in a cold frame. The seedlings grow very slowly, however, and will not bloom for several years. [WWW-43]

Uses for Saffron

The spice saffron comes mainly from the stigma of a closely related Crocus, thus the C. sativus. This species is cultivated purposely to extract saffron. However a paper reports that C. longiflorus also have very similar characteristics of producing saffron like the C. sativus. The paper by Casoria et al, 1996 called a preliminary note on an interesting species of crocus (Crocus longiflorus, Iridaceae) similar to Saffron (C. sativus) discusses a wild crocus in the Salerno region of Italy that local people use like saffron. Chemical tests show that C. longiflorus contains some of the same coloring and flavoring agents as true saffron. Interestingly, C. longiflorus reproduces sexually, unlike C. sativus. Further studies might show that the two species are related. [299]

Personal Observations

Species in danger of disappearing from the Maltese islands
It has been reported by many botanists, namely E. Lanfranco [300] that this plant is continually decreasing in number from our islands, mainly due to land management and bad disposing of rubble in the environment. It is very difficult to resist the temptation of not picking up this wonderful, colourful and scented flower, but bear in mind that this species is in danger of disappearing from our country and must NOT BE PICKED UP at all costs. Apart from the fact that the plant is attractive and scented, another factor which acts against the plant is that of growing low and one is more encouraged to cut it up to look closer without bowing down. Additionally each individual plant may develop only 2 - 3 flowers in its life cycle and so it is more important to leave the flowers to perform their reproductive process. Unfortunately, seed production and dispersion in the wild is not much effective for this plant either.

So, avoid picking this wild, sub-endemic and rather endangered, flowering wild plant. [SM]

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Links & Further info

Google Web

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Yahoo Web

Yahoo Images




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



The Plant List


Vienna Virt. Hb.





The Pleasure of Crocuses by Charlie Challenger Photo gallery of several Crocus species 1 (www.alpinegarden.com)
More info on crocuses as a garden ornament plant Photo gallery of several Crocus species 2 (www.bulb.biz)
Information about Saffron More information on saffron from Wikipedia.org
Information about Saffron and crocus by ED-Foods.com General information about the Crocus Genus

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