Saturday, 21 February 2009

Early Spring Crocus

At the back of Stretford Cemetery, adjacent to Hawthorn Lane, there are several rows of identical tomb stones. They are plain slabs with semicircular tops. On each stone are carved somewhere between six and twelve names. The names are nearly all different and represent members of many different families. The dates on the stones are roughly between 1890 and 1930. My guess is that these are paupers’ graves. They could even hold the remains of the last inhabitants of Stretford’s Workhouse (?)
Every year, from mid-February to early March, one of the burial plots (between two rows of tomb stones) is enlivened with a small colony of exquisite little pink Crocuses. These flowers are Early Spring Crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus). It is possible that these plants could have been planted, on these particular graves, at some indeterminate time in the past but the same species is naturalised elsewhere in the Mersey Valley, in places where it is less likely to have been deliberately planted.
C. tommasinianus is not native to Britain but is originally from the Balkan Peninsula, particularly Dalmatia, which is that long strip of land between the Dinaric Alps and the Adriatic Sea. Dalmatia was once part of Yugoslavia but is now a province of the independent country of Croatia. If you’ve ever taken a holiday in Dubrovnik or Split, you’ve been to Dalmatia.
The ‘tommasinianus’ part of the scientific name commemorates a botanist from Trieste called Muzio de Tommasini (1794 – 1879) who was an authority on the flora of Dalmatia. The name was bestowed on the plant by the Nineteenth century English botanist William Herbert who was an acknowledged expert on the genus Crocus and other bulbous plants. Coincidentally, William Herbert’s ‘day job’ was Dean of Manchester.

Dave Bishop, February 20.02.2009


1. ‘The Crocus’ by Brian Mathew, Batsford, 1982.

2. ‘A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum’ by E.A. Bowles, Waterstones Reprint, 1985 (originally published 1924).

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