PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Illustration from Bertuch "Bilderbuch Fur Kinder". Saffron - a spice from the stigma of the flower of Crocus sativus - the "saffron crocus". The styles and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used as a seasoning and food colouring. Worth more than its weight in gold. Amongst the world's costliest spices. It is a genetically monomorphic clone originating in Eurasia (probably Greece) and taken worldwide. It is a "self-incompatible" triploid and male sterile so all propagation is by vegetative multiplication via manual "divide-and-set" of a starter clone or by interspecific hybridisation. It may have emerged via plant breeding selecting for elongated stigmas, in late Bronze Age Crete. Its properties are from chemicals picrocrocin and safranal and a carotenoid pigment, crocin. There is evidence from old cuneiform texts that it has been traded for over 4000 years.
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