Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) is the source of the most expensive spice in
the world, with prices going up to 30,000 euros per kilogram. This spice
whose aroma comes from apocarotenoid Safranal is produced from manually
harvested stigmas, yet, despite its economic importance, its genome and
chromosomes are poorly studied.
Researchers in Technische Universitšt Dresden (TUD) found that saffron
crocus is a triploid hybrid species, is sterile, and cannot be bred.
Although it has been cultivated for more than 3,500 years, all plants
cultivated worldwide come only from daughter bulbs. For almost 100 years,
there has been controversy as to the possible parent species of the saffron
The TUD researchers managed to look into the origins of the saffron crocus
and shed light on the parent species using molecular and cytogenetic
methods. In a paper published in New Phytologist, they report the
autotriploid nature of saffron as a hybrid of wild Crocus cartwrightianus
Saffron crocus descended from the wild species Crocus cartwrightianus found
in Greece. Through the genome sequencing of Saffron crocus and comparative
chromosome analysis of different crocus species, the biologists were able to
demonstrate that genomes of two Crocus cartwrightianus individuals with
slight chromosomal differences are fused. These findings conclude the
centuries-long search for the origins of this mythical plant.