Tuesday, 3 April 2012


“The groundflame of the crocus breaks the mould, Fair Spring slides hither o'er the Southern sea, Wavers on her thin stem the snowdrop cold That trembles not to kisses of the bee: Come Spring, for now from all the dripping eaves The spear of ice has wept itself away, And hour by hour unfolding woodbine leaves O'er his uncertain shadow droops the day.” - Lord Alfred Tennyson
The crocus, Crocus flavus, is the birthday flower for this day and it symbolises the gladness of youth.  The ancient Greeks had a rather more lugubrious tale to tell. Crocus was a beautiful youth who loved Smilax, a nymph.  His love was unrequited and he pined away and died. The gods turned the hapless youth into the flower while the nymph was changed into the yew tree. Another ancient Greek legend has a different story of the metamorphosis of Crocus. This one reates that Crocus was an Arcadian boy who was loved by Hermes. When the god accidentally killed him playing discus, he transformed the boy into a crocus flower.

Crocus flavus (syn. Crocus luteus, Crocus aureus) often called the Dutch Yellow Crocus is a plant of the Crocus genus in the Iridaceae family. It grows wild on the slopes of Greece, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and North West Turkey with bright orange-yellow flowers which Tennyson likened to a fire. It is a small crocus (5-6 cm), despite the names of some cultivars, compared to the Giant Dutch crocuses (C. vernus). Its cultivars are used as ornamental plants. It naturalises well, and has been considered a weed.

As Spring is springing in the Northern Hemisphere, the crocus is an apt birthday flower for today, but in the Southern Hemisphere we are enjoying the mild, sunny days of Autumn and the cool nights, which keep on lengthening relentlessly with each passing day. Perhaps a more apt Southern Hemisphere birthday flower for today would be the meadow saffron, Colchicum autumnale.  It speaks the words: “My best days are over” in the language of flowers.  The ancient Greeks believed that the plant sprang from spilt drops of the youth elixir that Medea gave Jason to restore his youth.  Hence the name of this plant as Medea was from Colchis.

Colchicum autumnale, commonly known as autumn crocus, meadow saffron or naked lady, is a flower that resembles the true crocuses, but flowers in autumn. This is not a reliable distinction, however, since there are many true crocuses that flower in autumn. The name “naked lady” comes from the fact that the pinkish/magenta flowers emerge from the ground long after the leaves have died back. The species is commonly cultivated in temperate areas. 

Colchicine is a medication used for gout. It is a toxic natural product and secondary metabolite, originally extracted from plants of the genus Colchicum. It was used originally to treat rheumatic complaints, especially gout, and still finds use for these purposes today despite dosing issues concerning its toxicity. It was also prescribed for its cathartic and emetic effects. Colchicine's present medicinal use is in the treatment of gout, familial Mediterranean fever, pericarditis and Behçet’s disease. It is also being investigated for its use as an anticancer drug.

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