Sunday, March 6, 2016

Crocuses or Croci

Quick sketch of crocuses or croci
As I walked up 89th street from Riverside Drive, I saw a line of green stems stretching out from a small patch of snow left from what I hope is our last snow fall this winter.  Some had fallen over and some showed a bit of a bloom, but they all showed gumption.  Snow or no snow, they poked their heads out and promised more.  Little green grasps of hope telling us spring is coming.  Then when I went back a couple of days later, some had actually opened into purple blooms with saffron orange interiors. 

The crocus is a member of the iris family, Iridiaceae.  It grows from a corm, a tuberous bulb, and has cheerful looking brightly colored yellow, purple, or white flowers.  The word “crocus” has an interesting derivation related to words that mean saffron in Arabic kurkum and Hebrew karkōm, and perhaps ultimately back to the Sanskrit word for saffron kunkuman.  Old English had croh for “saffron,” but the present English usage seemed to come indirectly from Latin, which borrowed it from the Greek krokos.  The plural in English is correctly spelled as crocuses or the Latin form of the plural croci.  One sounds like a kiss and the other like a bad cold.

These spring blooms actually have a Greek myth to go along with them.  Crocus or Krokus was a mortal man who fell in love with and was rejected by the nymph Smilax.  He appealed to the gods for help and they turned him into a flower, the crocus.  Smilax was also turned into another plant for rejecting Krokus.  The gods had their ways.  Even if lovers couldn’t have each other, they could bring beauty to the world.  So perhaps it was unrequited love that gave us the crocus, a gift of spring.  Ah sweet love!

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