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THE SILVERY CROCUS CROCUS BIFLORUS IN BRITAIN

MILLER

DAVID M C C L I N T O C K

NATURALISED crocuses are surely under-recorded, for two reasons. T o o few naturalists are out and about in F e b r u a r y and M a r c h , and too few are skilled enough to recognise the species. T h e " L i s t of British Vascular P l a n t s " includes five. C. nudiflorus S m i t h is autumn flowering. C. sativus L . the saffron crocus, has never been known outside cultivation. T h e other three are C. purpureus Weston, often called C. vernus, C. flavus Weston (C. aureus Smith) and C. biflorus Miller. But this is not all. T h e early, variable, C. tomasinianus Herbert which can seed itself with such decorative abandon in gardens, happily can do this outside them too; and I doubt not that botanists bestirring themselves early should find other species as well. Characters to notice include, unfortunately, the reticulation and rings of the corm tunic, which is therefore needed for certain identification. But a good colony should be able to spare one or two, for such essential precision. Often they can be immediately replanted after inspection without any harm. C. purpureus is doubtless the most frequent species, not that it is all that c o m m o n : it was known around Nottingham "clothing several a c r e s " by at least the early years of the 18th Century, but now has almost completely gone. T r u e C. flavus is rarely, if ever, nowadays to be seen in plenty. T h e commonest yellow crocus is the, later, fatter " g a m p - l i k e " , sterile " D u t c h Y e l l o w " . C. biflorus is not c o m m o n in gardens, although still listed by s o m e bulb merchants. One form is the large, sterile, so-called Scotch Crocus {Bot. Mag. Plate 845) named perhaps from being brought into cultivation in a Scottish garden, for the species is native in the Mediterranean area f r o m Italy to Persia. Its Latin name dates from 1758 but it was known in this country very much earlier. T h i s species is almost entirely associated, as a wild and fertile plant, with Barton Park near Bury St. E d m u n d s in Suffolk (where it had also been identified as C. pusillus, C. minimus, and C. reticulatus). Sir C. J . F . B u n b u r y (1809-86), a keen plantsman, wrote, in his N o t e s on the Wild Plants in his " N o t e s on the T r e e s and S h r u b s cultivated at Barton P a r k " that this crocus, and C. flavus had grown in the Park in considerable plenty as long as either he or his father, Sir H . E . B u n b u r y (1778-1860), had known the place. T h e y were certainly relics of old cultivation— probably from Sir T h o m a s H a n m e r ' s garden. T h e earliest person to collect it there seems to have been D a w s o n T u r n e r (1775-1858) but there is no date against his


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Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 16, Part 4

specimen in the British Museum. Sir J. E. Smith in his English Flora of 1828 (pp. 262-3) quotes Turner as saying it grew "very plentifully there". The following year it was collected by N. S. Hodson, and through him was illustrated in the Supplement to English Botany Plate 2645 in 1830. At least three different people collected it in 1830, one of them, Robert Bevan, being the source of the plants on Plate 2991 in the Botanical Magazine. It continued to be collected at intervals throughout the last Century and into this, the latest date known to me, being by F. Robinson in 1922 (cf. Botanical Exchange Club Report, p. 857). The labels on none of these specimens give any indication in which part of the park this plant grew merely saying, for example, "old pasture land". T h e house itself was burnt between the wars and never rebuilt. Since the last war there has been a housing estate in the park and there are very few areas remaining which are not built over, gardens, roads, etc. Hind's "Flora of Suffolk" records "C. vernus" from Grundisburgh, on the other side of the county, in 1880 by F. Fox. Examination of specimens by Mr. F. W. Simpson has shown that this was in fact C. biflorus. The locality was rediscovered, apparently independently, by the late Miss E. Rawlins in 1936 and has been known to Mr. Simpson for some years. In approximately 1965 however, the field in which it grew was ploughed and converted to intensive soft fruit culture. The effect of this was to eliminate the crocus completely even from the few remaining verges and ditches. Nevertheless Mrs. Harris who had lived for years in a cottage opposite, being distressed at seeing the crocus thus eliminated, took some of the corms into her own garden where they still survive, welcome and happy evidence, but no longer wild. She reported that the plant also had grown in a meadow at Clopton but now ploughed up. The area was searched, but no specimens had managed to survive, even around the edges of the field. This was discovered on a special trip made in 1969 in the Company of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Dickson, Mr. Simpson, Mr. C. Grange of Bury, and Mr. M. Rutterford of Lakenheath, when most of the time was in fact spent at Barton Park. There, after considerable search and much kind assistance from local residents, the following were found:— 1. Two or three plants of C.flavus. These were on a grassy bank which had been very closely mown and trodden by geese: indeed it was a miracle that any plants could show a flower in such circumstances. This, as noted above, had been known in the park as \ong as C. biflorus—perhaps the earliest specimen is from Hodson in 1830, from which the plate in the Botanical Magazine 2986 was drawn. It was


SILVERY CROCUS I N B R I T A I N

2.

3.

219

described as "New discovery" on a specimen from W. Pamplin and N. B. Ward in 1835. On a specimen dated 1880 from A. Bennett is noted " I n Sir Charles's father's time the Turnpike Road used to pass close by where they now grow and there was probably a cottage or a lodge near (later on an Act of Parliament had the present road constructed)". Bennett was in communication with Sir Charles at the time. It was therefore of considerable interest to find that at least this plant, which had been similarly collected over the intervening years up to 1922, still survived. The owner of this garden seemed sure that a plant answering the description of C. biflorus had very recently grown on this same bank. The only hope of proving if it still survived was to keep the geese off. C. tomasinianus—scattered among some fruit trees in a derelict part of what was presumably once the kitchen garden of the park.

David McClintock, M.A.,

F.L.S., Bracken Hill, Platt, Kent.

Sevenoaks,

The Silvery Crocus Crocus biflorus Miller in Britain  
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