Crocus sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus, or autumn crocus, is a species of flowering plant of the Crocus genus in the iris family Iridaceae. It is best known for producing the spice saffron from the filaments that grow inside the flower. The term “autumn crocus” is also used for species in the Colchicum genus, which strongly resemble crocuses. However, crocuses have 3 stamens and 3 styles, while colchicums have 6 stamens and 1 style, and belong to a different family, Colchicaceae. Colchicums are also toxic.
This cormous autumn-flowering perennial plant species is unknown in the wild. Human cultivation of saffron crocus and use of saffron have taken place for more than 3,500 years and spans different cultures, continents, and civilizations (see History of saffron). Crocus sativus is currently known to grow in the Mediterranean, East Asia, and Irano-Turanian Region. Saffron is the triploid form of a species found in Eastern Greece, Crocus cartwrightianus; it probably appeared first in Southern Greece on the Attic peninsula or the island of Crete. An origin in Western or Central Asia, although often suspected, is not supported by botanical research. Other sources suggested some genetic input from Crocus pallasii, which has not been verified by chromosome and genome comparisons.