These bright little "Easter egg" flowers are among the first to pop up in the early springtime, and they let everyone know that the season is well underway. Crocuses are part of the Iridaceae family, the same family as the iris. They are native to many parts of the world, including many parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. As opposed to growing from bulbs, crocuses grow from corms, which are thickened underground areas of the stem meant to store food for the plant.

Crocuses take their name from the Greek word for yellow or saffron. Originally a French flower, crocuses were brought to England by Jean Robin, who was the Director of Gardens in Paris. It's hard to believe that these plants are not native to North America, but they actually arrived in the luggage of settlers, who planted them around their cabins on their new land. Thanks to them, we can now buy crocus' at most garden centers.

The flowers are goblet- or egg-shaped and number about four to a corm. They can be purple, white, lilac, pastel blue, bicolored or like their name, saffron or yellow. The foliage is dark green and pointed, striped with white or chartreuse. A great flower for the front of a bed or border garden, the crocus grows to be approximately 6 inches high and includes 3 or more branches. They flower in the early spring; or, in the case of autumn crocuses, in the late fall.

Growing Crocuses

Crocuses need a flower garden with exposure to full sun to partial shade and should be planted in well-drained, slightly sandy soil that's moderately fertile. The corms should be stored in a dry spot, at approximately 68 degrees F, and then planted in the autumn. Autumn-blooming crocuses should be planted in late summer.

Recommended Varieties

The flowers have over 80 different species and many varying cultivars, so there's a lot to choose from. Depending on when you want the flowers to bloom, you can choose from spring-blooming corms or autumn-blooming ones. "Scotch crocus" has yellow-centered flowers with pastel blue petals. "Crocus flavus" is an autumn-blooming species with yellow or purple flowers. "Crocus malyi" has white flowers with yellow stamens. You can always consult a landscape professional to determine which flower types are best for your garden design.

Landscape Design Tips

Crocuses look wonderful in alpine rock gardens, island flowerbeds, borders and even containers, but they're the most charming when poking out of a short, grassy lawn. The flowers are remarkably adaptable, so as long as they get enough sun, they can grow almost anywhere.

Gardening Zones

Crocuses are hardy in zones 4 to 8.

Pests and Problems

The flowers may suffer from corm rot and mold, but often rodents and birds will eat the corms before this can happen. Birds will also eat the flowers.