Sternbergia lutea is the name of the bright yellow flowers in the header picture above. Their common name is “fall crocus.” The first fall crocus that I ever saw were blooming around Grandmother Rachel’s backyard oak trees.
In the early 1990s, I read about a variety of crocus-like, fall-blooming flowers in Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide to Texas Gardening, and made the connection that these fall crocus were the same as Grandmother’s yellow beauties. Sperry described sternbergia lutea as an “unusual plant that should be tried more commonly.”
Inspired to grow my own fall crocus, I inquired about the bulbs at numerous gardening stores. “Crocus only bloom in the spring,” was the usual reply to my query about the availability of fall crocus bulbs. Finally, I began to present the Neil Sperry book along with my request, and was told a couple of times that it looked like I needed to contact Neil Sperry himself.
Next, I consulted the Travis County Agricultural Agent. Although he, too, was unfamiliar with fall crocus, he recommended that I contact a Central Texas bulb authority known as the “Bulb Man.” I telephoned the “Bulb Man,” who graciously invited me to his home to search his collection of bulb catalogs. Prepared to hear that he lived hours away, I was surprised that he resided a mere five miles from my house.
A few days later, I was seated on the “Bulb Man’s” living room floor perusing a large stack of catalogs, while Andrew played nearby. An hour later, and only half-way through the stack of catalogs, Andrew had eaten all of his Cherrios, and had lost interest in his toy tractors. While entertaining Andrew, I continued to methodically scan page after page for any reference to sternbergia. It looked like I was going to have to contact Mr. Sperry afterall—only one catalog left. But on the very last page, at the bottom, right-hand corner, was the elusive sternbergia!
While I would have found the bulbs more readily if I had had Internet access back then, I might not have discovered the flowerbulb brokers at “McClure and Zimmerman.” Not only do they sell sternbergia, but they also offer another of Grandmother’s difficult-to-find-favorites: King Alfred daffodils. Call 1.800.883.6998 for your very own flowerbulb catalog and planting guide.
I have often wondered where Grandmother learned about the hardy sternbergia. In the fall of 1974, my senior year of high school, I remember admiring her fall crocus which had naturalized to two-foot golden rings around the trees. I measured the same flower rings about 20 years later, and was astonished that they had spread to a dazzling five feet!
My chest will ache at the beauty of my soon-to-be-blooming, brilliant yellow, six-petaled flowers. I can never get enough of looking at them, and that is why they have decorated my blog for almost a year.