It is found throughout the Mediterranean area. In Malta it grows in patches of shallow soil in rocky areas. It is a perennial plant which spends the dry summer months beneath the surface as a bulb.
In autumn, following the first substantial rainfall it produces a small number of slender leaves. The first flowers appear in February when the surrounding vegetation is still green and they continue to flower until April by which time much of the surrounding vegetation begins to dry up.
In Maltese it is known as żagħfran tal-blat. Another similar but less common species, the Maltese sand-crocus (żagħfran tal-blat ta’ Malta) is endemic to the Maltese islands. This species is distinguished from the more widespread species by having very narrow petals.
The sand-crocuses belong to a genus known as the Romulea. The name of this genus is derived from that of Romulus one of the two brothers who are said to have founded Rome because one member of this genus is very common in the Roman countryside.
This article was published in The Times on 02.02.2011