Grow your own saffron, the world's most expensive spice

A pair of rabbits was paying way too much attention to the base of our crab apple tree, and since I wasn't certain they were simply feeding on the tree's fallen apples, I decided to investigate.

That's when I noticed our saffron crocuses were ready to bloom, and the rabbits weren't feeding on crab apples at all. Instead, they were feasting like royalty on crocus-flower buds.

Ancient roots

Long ago and far away, there was a time when a field of "saffron crocuses" (Crocus sativis) would have been worth its weight in gold, due to the saffron that's extracted from their tiny, crimson-colored "stigmas" (pollen receptors) that were used back then to make a golden dye for the robes of royalty and the well-off. Even today, this hand-picked spice sells for up to $300 an ounce, making it the most expensive spice in the world.

Incidentally, it's believed that one of the ancient world's greatest stories had its roots in the search for a never-ending supply of saffron crocuses.

What story? Scholars believe the search for a legendary, golden fleece was metaphorically used to represent saffron in the ancient-Greek tale of Jason's trials and tribulations depicted in "Jason and the Argonauts."

Saffron crocuses

Similar in appearance to spring-blooming crocuses, saffron crocuses produce pale-purple flowers that grow 8 to 12 inches tall. First grown by the ancient Greeks, and native to areas surrounding the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, they've been cultivated for more than 3,500 years.

I plant saffron-crocus "corms" (tiny bulbs) in full sun and 4 inches deep in soil that drains freely. They can be planted in the spring or fall. But they'll bloom in about six weeks, if corms are planted now.

By the way, even though the flowers of saffron crocuses produce the most expensive spice in the world, purchasing their corms from garden centers or online won't cost you a king's ransom. Watch out for hungry rabbits, though. They'll feast like royalty on the flowers of these perennials, because they covet saffron flowers as much as most folks covet gold.

This week in the garden

I'm still patching spots in our lawn that were damaged this summer. Except it's too late to plant grass seeds in places where I'll be soon raking fallen leaves. So instead, I'm transplanting small clumps of sod taken from inconspicuous areas to plug bare spots.

This time of year, the sod takes hold within a week.

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