Tim EntwisleTommy time

It’s day 26 of the year 2012 – ‘Australia Day’ for those of you with antipodean interests. One of the early spring flowers, or more accurately middle to late winter flowers, is the Early Crocus, Crocus tommasinianus.

Early crocus, Crocus tommasinianus

Also know as Tommies, according to Wikipedia, it was first recorded, and presumably planted, at Kew in the late nineteenth century and is now well naturalised almost everywhere.

There is a temptation to think that the Tommy has come early this year. It’s been unseasonally warm and as I wrote for The Guardian, summer flowers are hanging on and spring flowers may be a little early. As I also wrote, winter flowers are doing just what they are meant to do.

Kew100 project showing crocus flowering

Luckily we have some information on when Crocus tomasinianus flowers. Thanks to Wildlife and Phenology Officer Sandra Bell and a team of dedicated volunteers, Kew has this set of measurements from the 1950s (the first five bars represent decades, the next 11 the years from 2001 to 2011) as part of the Kew100 project. The number up the ‘Y axis’ (0-40) is the yearly day number when the first flowers were observed in a selected population – i.e. 1 January is day one and 31 December is day 365, or now and then 366…

The mean of these measurements is, curiously, day 26. That is, today, the 26th of January! So is it a pretty average year then? Actually, it’s a little in advance of average because the Tommies have been in flower for at least a week and I’m sure Sandra’s sample population were starting a week or two ago. They would have to have been out on the 8th of January to break the recent record, set in 2007, and I don’t recall seeing any in the week or so after New Year’s Day.

Crocus with snowdrops

So early, but not dramatically so. As with most years it is sharing the winter limelight with snowdrops (and early daffodils).

Wild crocus near Mt Renard, France, in 1984

I remember the first time I noticed Crocus in the wild, in the 1980s (a late flowering decade according to the Kew100 data). Lynda and I were on our first visit to France and exploring the foothills of the French Alps, somewhere near Mount Renard. This picture was taken on 30 April 1984, day 121!

Some things have changed sice 1984…

This is all a timely reminder that flowering time is influenced by altitude as well as climate, and quite possible by species for all I know (I await advice from my Iridaceae experts). Still some things have definitely changed since 1984…

Postscript: I can confirm that this year Crocus tommasinianus did come close to breaking the recent record (day 8). Firstly flowering was recorded by Sandra Bell’s team on 9 January!

From Talking Plants

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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

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