The Growth of Crocus Sativus, the Source of Hay Saffron, in Kashmir.
BY DR. DOWNES, Medical Missionary.
Paper read before the Edinburgh Botanical Society, May 12. from the "Gardeners' Chronicle," May 21,1881.
According to the late Dr. Elmslie, the native names are Kóng-posh (Crocus sativus), n.m. saffron-flower, and Kóngs, n.m. saffron (Crocus sativus). Cake saffron is largely an adulteration of the stigmata of wallflower and other plants. The Crocus sativus is the only plant grown in Kashmir the stigmata of which compose hay saffron. The famous saffron fields are situated in the vicinity of Pampur, on a plain fully fifty feet above the valley. The bulbs grow on soil said to have been specially imported for the purpose. In dry seasons the produce averages nearly a ton, though the crop was in 1871 only half that quantity. Some 1,500 lbs. of saffron are exported yearly from Kashmir to Laddahk. From 9d. to 1s. sterling is given for 180 grains. The bulbs are planted out in June, and the stigmata are collected in October. It is principally used as a condiment, its power on the system, whether in health or disease, being trivial. The mark on the forehead of a Hindu Pundit is partially derived from it. The Mussulmans of the valley are generally unable to buy it. According to O'Shaughnessy the odor is fragrant, and the taste bitter but agreeable. It tinges the saliva yellow. Pereira makes one grain of good saffron to contain the stigmata and styles of nine flowers, so that the formation of an ounce would require 4,320 flowers. Bulbs received by Dr. Royle in 1826 from Kashmir, when in charge of the Saharunpore Botanical Gardens, which flowered, and were afterwards figured, turned out to be varieties of Crocus sativus. This author has little doubt of the Asiatic derivation of this species.
The four stations of saffron cultivation, called "Warewas," are flat treeless table lands, on the borders of the hills, 50 to 150 feet higher than the Kashmir Valley, which is 5,200 feet above the sea-level. They are little, if at all, irrigated. The soil is a stiff clay. Dr. Downes has been informed that saffron has been successfully cultivated in the gardens of the city of Kashmir; indeed, he believes that the oppression and greed of government officials is the sole cause preventing its general growth. He does not think a special soil needed for the cultivation of Crocus sativus. In a hopeful experiment of this kind at Alwar, near Delhi, Mr. Landseer started bulb growing on earth brought in barrels from Kashmir. But in the second year the five beds of bulbs had increased to nine, and as there was no further import of Kashmir earth, native soil had to be partly used, and with success. In Kashmir the C. sativus is cultivated on raised parterres, and drained and carefully weeded; though Dr. Downes believes not irrigated. As the half of the price of the produce, which is the due of the cultivator, very seldom comes his way—owing to the plundering of intermediate government officials—the plant is left very much to its own care. During the last two famine years no saffron has been gathered, though this year a small crop is expected. According to one native tradition, the Crocus sativus miraculously appeared in Pampur, after the prayer of a holy man some three hundred years ago; while others assert its introduction from the direction of Kabul by a ruler named Bar-Sháh. —Phar. Jour. and Trans., July 2, 1881.