Főoldal Villány Wine Region Natural treasures of Villány Wine Region Crocus

Crocus

(Colchicum hungaricum)

The Hungarian Crocus deservedly appears on labels of the best wines of the Villány Wine Region; it is a unique natural treasure of Hungary

A real Hungaricum: the crocus

On milder January days, when the rest of Hungary is still in gloomy winter weather, Szársomlyó Hill in Nagyharsány is dotted with the earliest blooming Hungarian flower, the Hungarian crocus.

Magyar KikericsBetween the dark green leaves with their V-shaped cross-section, 10 to 15 white or pale purple flowers succeed each other until late spring. It is similar to its relative, the more frequent and larger autumn crocus. It is a fragile, elegant little creature that is in bloom in large numbers in March.

It is a genus of lily, so its flower consists of six petals, and its bulb is hidden a few centimetres below the surface in the ground of the rocky grass areas, usually just beside a rock. Its fruit is ripe in May, elevating from the depth to the surface, and its seeds are dispersed and scattered around the mother plant through precipitation and insects.

This is followed by a rest period; the leaves dry out and the bulb of the plant is inactive for the summertime and the winter months. This is a survival strategy of bulbs living in the grass areas.

For a long time the only known habitats of this plant was the south slope of Szársomlyó Hill  (see: hiking path). Here the formerly unknown plant was found and described for science in 1867 (the year of the Compromise made with Austria) by the Hungarian botanist, Viktor Janka.

Named following botanical rules, the flower was “scientifically Christened” as the Hungarian crocus, Colchicum hungaricum.

It is a real Mediterranean plant, but its populations living in the Balkans (Velebit) are smaller than the Hungarian one. There were two populations on the Szársomlyó, but the Nagyharsány population fell victim to limestone quarrying. The Villány population, however (living above the Sculpture Park), is viable and sustainable.

It lives in sporadic locations in other parts of the hill; it was very frequent when sheep were grazed on the area. Traditional farming lived in harmony with nature; the grazing animals only liked the other members of the plant association, e.g. grasses, and did not harm the crocus – probably also because all species of the genus contain a seriously venom.

Szársomlyó, because it is the habitat in Hungary with the highest biodiversity of flora and fauna, was one of the first natural habitats of Hungary to be awarded a strictly protected status (in 1936).

In addition to top-level botanists from Pécs, researchers from the Botanic Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, of Eötvös Lóránd University and of the Hungarian Natural Science Museum have carried out regular researches on the habitat of the crocus. A rare species – with special demands not reproducible elsewhere – indicates under what conditions it can survive.

It is only able to reproduce here, on this Island of Mediterranean climate. Probably this is the place where the crocus survived the one million years of the last Ice Age.

If it can only live in a Mediterranean climate, then climate change and warming may have favourable consequences for this plant. And indeed, surveys over several years show that although the number of plants in bloom has not increased (they first bloom in the third or fourth year after their germination, only), the number of germinating seeds and young plants has considerably grown. This is how this rare species has contributed further data to prove the existence of the phenomenon of climate change.

The Hungarian Crocus deservedly appears on labels of the best wines of the Villány Wine Region; it is a unique natural treasure of Hungary.

As a symbol of Hungary it also appeard on the two-forint coin. Unfortunately this coin is no longer in use (since 2008) –due to economical considerations – but we hope that it will appear again on another Hungarian coin.