Beautiful Crocuses in March: Photos and Facts

I love the beautiful splash of colour that crocuses create in early spring. It’s wonderful to see such pretty flowers before most of the other plants in my part of the world have blossomed. The crocuses are a sign that the beginning of spring has arrived and that the pace of nature’s wakening is about to quicken. 

I don’t have any crocuses in my garden at the moment, but I’m able to enjoy the sight of the flowers with little effort. They grow beside a trail very close to my home. Many of the flowers there are likely garden escapees, although I suspect that some of them may have been deliberately planted. They bloom every March and are spreading.

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Some crocuses have rich colours.

Common or English daisies are beginning to bloom where I live and are a pleasant sight. The more vibrant colour of the crocuses is very much appreciated after I’ve been surrounded by the relatively drab plants of winter, though. The flowers close on dull days, but on sunny ones they open and reveal their beautiful colours and attractive stripes.

Crocus flowers close when the outer surface of their petals grows relatively rapidly, causing the petals to bow outwards. They open when the inner surface grows rapidly, causing the petals to bow inwards. There are several theories about why they need to do this. One is that protecting the pollen on dark days stops it from becoming wet and heavy when it rains. The heavier pollen might be harder for insects to transport. Pollen must be transported from one flower to another in order for reproduction to occur and seeds to be produced. Crocuses are pollinated by bees, beetles, and moths.

Many crocuses don’t smell fragrant (as least to humans), but another theory may explain why some flowers close in the dark or in dull light. This theory says that the action preserves odoriferous molecules that attract insects. The action saves the molecules for the time when most insects are around and prevents the plant from having to make them again.

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The different colours and patterns of crocus flowers are attractive.

Crocus plants belong to the genus Crocus, which is part of the iris family,  or the Iridaceae. The genus contains multiple species that flower at various times of the year. Crocuses are native to Europe and Asia. They have been introduced to many places around the world, including North America. 

The plants are perennials that grow from an underground corm. A corm is a storage organ. A bulb contains layers of tissue, but a corm appears to have a solid interior. One end of the crocus corm is rounded and the other is pointed. The corms are planted in the fall about three to four inches deep and two to four inches apart, generally with the pointed end up. They require well-drained soil. 

If the flowers grow in a grassy area, the grass shouldn’t be mowed until the leaves have died. The leaves carry out photosynthesis and create food that is stored in the corm.

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I love the colour contrast between crocus flowers and the leaf litter.

The crocus plants that people buy for their garden or for landscaping purposes are very often varieties of Crocus vernus, or the spring crocus. They are the most common type of the plant where I live. Other species that bloom in spring are also used in gardens. These include Crocus chrysanthus, or the snow crocus, which is liked for its yellow flowers.

Crocus flavus, which is commonly known as the yellow crocus or the Dutch yellow crocus, is also liked. The plant is popular for its brilliant orange-yellow flowers, which have a pleasant fragrance. Additional varieties of crocuses are available at garden stores. Some are multicoloured.

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A lovely discovery on a walk

A crocus flower has six petals that are arranged in two whorls of three. The centre of the flower contains the female structure, or the pistil. The pistil has a tall style with a branched and feathery stigma at the top. The stigma is the part that traps pollen grains from another crocus. The three stamens are shorter and surround the pistil. Stamens have anthers or pollen sacs at the top. These are born on a stalk called the filament.

You’ll notice that all the flowers in my photos have long and narrow leaves with a grey or silvery stripe down the middle. This is a characteristic of the genus Crocus.

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An attractive blue crocus

Two other plants known as crocuses have some interesting features, though one is potentially dangerous.  Crocus sativa produces the spice known as saffron. The spice consists of the dried stigmas of the flower. Obtaining enough stigmas to sell is a labour-intensive process. The spice is expensive but is highly valued in some cuisines.

Great care is needed when dealing with a plant known as the autumn crocus. The name might suggest that this is a garden crocus that blooms in the autumn instead of the spring, but that’s not the case. It does bloom in autumn, but it’s not a crocus, despite its common name. It’s very poisonous and can be deadly. It’s not a suitable plant for a place where young children or pets live or visit.

The scientific name of the plant is Colchicum autumnale. It’s sometimes referred to as “naked ladies” because when it flowers the leaves have disappeared. Another way to distinguish the plant from a true crocus is the fact that the flower has six stamens instead of three.

All parts of the plant are poisonous and affect multiple systems in the body. Ingesting any part of it can be fatal. In a tiny and carefully formulated amount prescribed by a doctor, however, a potentially dangerous chemical in the plant called colchicine is used as a medicine for gout.

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This is the only yellow crocus that I’ve seen beside the trail this year.

I would never grow autumn crocus because I have pets in my family. Though I do have some ornamental and food plants in my garden, most of the garden is covered by grass to accommodate my two dogs. It’s therefore very nice to see cultivated flowers in my neighbourhood.

Several landscaped areas that the public can explore are located quite close to my home. The spring crocuses are even closer. Some can be seen at the bottom of the road where I live. I’m glad that the plants put on such a lovely show in mid-March. The colourful display improves each year.

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A lovely species of crocus growing by itself amongst the leaf litter

Exploring the Beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver

Queen Elizabeth Park is a beautiful area in Vancouver with multiple attractions for visitors. One of these is the lovely gardens created on the site of a former quarry. The gardens are attractive all year but are especially so when flowers bloom. They are wonderful places to take photographs or to explore. I always find something new to see or photograph when I go the gardens and the park.

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A scene in the Quarry Garden at Queen Elizabeth Park

Little Mountain and Queen Elizabeth Park

The park is located on a hill known as Little Mountain. The top of the mountain is the highest point in the city of Vancouver at 152 metres (500 feet). The hill is such a dominant feature in the area that the neighbourhood at its base is also known as Little Mountain. The summit of the hill provides an interesting view of the city and the Coast Mountains to the north of Burrard Inlet.

Queen Elizabeth Park has an area of 52 hectares (130 acres) and is spread over the mountain. The Quarry Gardens and the Bloedel Floral Conservatory are probably the main attractions for visitors. They’re accessed or located at the top of the hill. A road travels up Little Mountain and a parking lot is present at the top.

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Another scene in the Quarry Garden with the Bloedel Conservatory in the background

The Quarry Gardens

The quarry gardens can be visited without cost. There are two of them: the larger Quarry Garden and the smaller North Quarry Garden, which is overlooked by the Seasons in the Park Restaurant. The Quarry Garden has a lovely collection of flowers, shrubs, and trees and contains a stream and a waterfall. The North Quarry Garden has no water but has some interesting oriental features.

A visit to the gardens requires a short descent by paths and steps from the top of the mountain and then a climb on the reverse journey. The gardens can be admired by looking over a low wall if someone can’t or doesn’t want to make the descent. If you look carefully, you may be able to see a man and a woman looking over the wall in my first photograph.

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Part of the Photo Session sculpture in the park and an interesting view

Public Art

“Photo Session” is a sculpture by J. Seward Johnson, Junior. It’s located in front of a viewpoint in the park. It shows a man photographing three friends and encouraging them to pose as he wishes. The sculpture itself is very frequently photographed. Many people like to stand beside the three posing characters in order for someone to take their photo. The sculptor gave his creation to the park in 1984.

A Henry Moore sculpture entitled “Knife Edge Two Piece 1962-1965” is located on the plaza near the conservatory. It was donated by Prentice Bloedel of the MacMillan Bloedel forestry company. He also made a donation that played a major role in enabling the Bloedel Floral Conservatory to be created.

The “Love in the Rain” sculpture shows wire mesh people under umbrellas. The public is encouraged to add a padlock to the sculpture to “lock in their love.” Other sculptures are sometimes on temporary display at the park.

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The photographer in the Photo Session sculpture

The Bloedel Conservatory

The Bloedel Conservatory contains so many attractions that it deserves a post of its own, which I’ll create in the near future. A post about the park really needs to mention the conservatory, however, even briefly. Unlike the gardens, the conservatory charges an admission fee. The tickets aren’t very expensive, though.

The interior of the dome is a fascinating place for a nature lover to visit. More than 500 types of exotic plants and over 120 birds—many of them free-flying—can be found under the dome. The conservatory has a temperature-controlled environment and a variety of mini-habitats.

It’s sometimes necessary to walk carefully as colourful birds land on a path in the conservatory. The birds are fed at feeding stations visible to the public. These stations provide great photo opportunities. Larger birds that needed a new home also live under the dome. These include parrots and cockatoos.

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The Bloedel Floral Conservatory

Other Attractions in the Park

The flat and spacious area next to the conservatory is officially known as Queen Elizabeth Plaza. It sits on top of a reservoir that provides much of Vancouver’s drinking water. The reservoir consists of two earthquake-proof cells and holds 45 million gallons of water.

A popular attraction on the plaza is the “Dancing Waters” fountain. The fountain has seventy jets that release recirculating water. The height and timing of the water released from the jets is controlled by a computer program and varies, creating the dancing effect. The Celebration Pavilion is located near the conservatory and is a popular site for weddings.

An arboretum is located on the slopes of the park. It contains around 1,500 trees from across Canada and other parts of the world. The park also contains a rose garden. In the spring and summer, artists work in the park and sell their creations.

The park has lawn bowling, pitch and putt, and disc golf areas as well as tennis courts, a basketball court, and arbours for tai chi. It also has an off-leash site for dogs. These facilities make the park popular for people living near by as well as tourists and plant-lovers.

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This crocodile surprised me as I was walking around the garden.

Getting to Queen Elizabeth Park

The park is located in the centre of Vancouver. It has several entrances. It’s officially said to be located at the junction of Cambie Street and West 33rd Avenue but has other roads on its perimeter.

Pay parking is available in the park for people with vehicles. A SkyTrain line stops at the Oakridge-41st Avenue Station. (SkyTrain is Greater Vancouver’s rapid transit system.)  People can walk to Queen Elizabeth Park from the station. Buses travel along the roads that border the park. Tour buses also go to the park.

TransLink is the organization that runs the public transit system in the Greater Vancouver area. Their website has a trip planner. If a person enters their starting and ending locations, the trip planner will tell them how to reach their destination by public transit.

A bike route travels beside Little Mountain. Bike routes or bikeways are located on quieter and lower-traffic roads compared to the situation on main roads. However the park is reached, I think the journey is very worthwhile. I always enjoy my visits to the park.