Crocosmia – starry allure

Whether planted for its dry-flower scent or falling-star aesthetic qualities, Crocosmia has the ability to bring an entirely new dimension to your garden

JOHANNESBURG – Like the smell of saffron? That grassy, hay-like odour is hard to come by when you consider how expensive this exotic spice is. However, the distinct aroma is still attainable if you plant the beautiful Crocosmia. It’s said that placing Crocosmia’s dried flowers in warm water elicits this very same scent, allowing you to feel like you’re in the great halls of a Persian spice bazaar. That is then how it got its name – from the Greek terms for saffron and smell, krokos and osme. Still in line with the Persian Arabian Nights theme, the flowers are commonly known as falling stars – a pretty sight to imagine, when you think of their many little orange flowers dangling from their rather tall stems.

Eight species exist, and as an indigenous plant to South Africa, they’re mostly found in the eastern parts of the country, up to 2 000 metres above sea level, in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland. In nature, Crocosmia is most abundant in forest margins, on stream banks and in wooded kloofs. Its large colonies are spread by the birds that eat its seeds and the bush pigs feeding on its 50mm-wide corms. The shiny, purplish-black round seeds that can be collected from the wild, for planting in spring, are developed from a leathery, orange capsule within the bloom.

The most popular of all Crocosmia plants is actually a hybrid of the two species C. aurea and C. pottsii, and is known as C. x crocosmiiflora, a hybrid which can now be found around the world. Although not as tall as C. aurea, which grows up to 1.2m tall, C. x crocosmiiflora (known as montbretia) grows between 40cm and one-metre high. The corms of both should be planted 5cm to 8cm below ground level, and spaced 20cm apart. While the hybrid is happy in full sun, C. aurea prefers dappled shade and requires less watering. Both should be planted in September for flowering between December and March. Happily, they’re not very demanding (and the only insect to be wary of is the red spider mite, which likes to attack the foliage), so a feed in summer with a mulch of old compost should suffice.

These corms can be left in the same position year after year, so plant them in a spot that you won’t need for anything else. If you do happen to lift the corms, do so in mid-winter, and transplant them immediately, as they do not like being kept outside of the soil.

Because of their long stems and abundance of blooms per stem, these plants make for great summer vase displays as cut flowers. C. aurea’s soft, sword-shaped leaves, which are 20mm to 30mm wide, are arranged in two ranks, and have a distinct mid-vein. Their architectural-type structure gives them the allure of ornamental grasses as they move with the wind. For reasons of visual form, Crocosmia, with its flowers of 40mm in diameter forming a branched inflorescence, is a very good match with broad-leaved plants and fine-textured groundcover.

Whether planted for its dry-flower scent or falling-star aesthetic qualities, Crocosmia has the ability to bring an entirely new dimension to your garden – one that will leave you with bright memories season after season.

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