Article

State of Art of Saffron ( Crocus sativus L.) Agronomy: A Comprehensive Review

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Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is the most expensive spice of the world, and it is one of the 85 members of the genus Crocus. It is native of Asia Minor, and it is cultivated in Mediterranean countries. Saffron predominantly contains certain chemical constituents that are responsible for imparting colour, flavour, and aroma. Some of its components have cytotoxic, anti-carcinogenic and anti-tumor properties. Since, saffron is a triploid (2n = 3x = 24) plant and fails to produce seed upon selfing or crossing, so it is propagated through corms. The growing area for saffron is not extensive, although its demand in the international market is increasing. Research activities have been initiated to develop new production technologies of this spice in many countries. Saffron grows best in friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay calcareous soils. Besides, climate and soil, planting time, seed/corm rate, planting depth, corm size/weight, crop density, nutrient management, weed management, growth regulators, harvest, and post-harvest management also influence saffron quality and quantity. In this paper, an attempt has been made to compile the recent agronomic research on saffron for commercial flower and corm production.
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State of Art of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) Agronomy: A Comprehensive Review
Rakesh Kumar a; Virendra Singh a; Kiran Devi a; Madhu Sharma a; M. K. Singh a; P. S. Ahuja a
a Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (CSIR), Palampur, India
Online Publication Date: 01 January 2009
To cite this Article Kumar, Rakesh, Singh, Virendra, Devi, Kiran, Sharma, Madhu, Singh, M. K. and Ahuja, P. S.(2009)'State of Art of
Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) Agronomy: A Comprehensive Review',Food Reviews International,25:1,44 — 85
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/87559120802458503
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44
Food Reviews International, 25:44–85, 2009
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ISSN: 8755-9129 print / 1525-6103 online
DOI: 10.1080/87559120802458503
LFRI8755-91291525-6103Food Reviews International, Vol. 25, No. 1, Oct 2008: pp. 0–0Food Reviews International State of Art of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.)
Agronomy: A Comprehensive Review
State of Art of Saffron AgronomyKumar et al. RAKESH KUMAR, VIRENDRA SINGH, KIRAN DEVI,
MADHU SHARMA, M.K. SINGH, AND P.S. AHUJA
Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (CSIR), Palampur, India
Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is the most expensive spice of the world, and it is one of the
85 members of the genus Crocus. It is native of Asia Minor, and it is cultivated in Med-
iterranean countries. Saffron predominantly contains certain chemical constituents
that are responsible for imparting colour, flavour, and aroma. Some of its components
have cytotoxic, anti-carcinogenic and anti-tumor properties. Since, saffron is a triploid
(2n = 3x = 24) plant and fails to produce seed upon selfing or crossing, so it is propa-
gated through corms. The growing area for saffron is not extensive, although its
demand in the international market is increasing. Research activities have been initi-
ated to develop new production technologies of this spice in many countries. Saffron
grows best in friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay calcare-
ous soils. Besides, climate and soil, planting time, seed/corm rate, planting depth,
corm size/weight, crop density, nutrient management, weed management, growth regu-
lators, harvest, and post-harvest management also influence saffron quality and quan-
tity. In this paper, an attempt has been made to compile the recent agronomic research
on saffron for commercial flower and corm production.
Keywords Saffron, Crocus sativus, uses, cultivation, in vitro studies
Introduction
Saffron is the spice derived from the flower of the plant saffron scientifically known as
Crocus sativus L. and is cultivated from the western Mediterranean (Spain) to India
(Kashmir). Since time immemorial, stigmas of saffron have been valued for its exotic
flavour, bitter taste, and colour.(1) Saffron predominantly contains chemical constituents
such as crocin, picrocrocin and safranal which are responsible for colour, flavour, and
aroma, respectively.(2) It is the most expensive spice of the world (3) as its cultivation,
harvesting and processing is labour intensive. Low yield of this spice is attributed partly to
the primitive agronomic practices and partly to the genetically uniform planting material
both of which call for immediate change.(4) In order to ensure the future of the saffron
crop, it is indispensable to improve cultivation techniques, planting material and quality
evaluation methodology. Literature reviews are available on various aspects of saffron
such as its reproductive biology,(5) chemical composition,(3,6) traditional and modern uses
and its constituents,(7) distribution and production,(8) cultivation,(9) harvesting, processing,
and yield.(10) The aim of this paper is to describe the agronomic aspects of the crop includ-
ing the importance of the plant, the different plant parts, in vitro cormlet production, insect
pest and diseases of the crop, and its ecological impact.
Address correspondence to Rakesh Kumar, Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology,
Post Box No. 6, Palampur, Dist. Kangra (HP) 176 061, India. E-mail: rakeshkumar@ihbt.res.in
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 45
Origin and History
Saffron is endemic to the Mediterranean region. It is perhaps originated from Greece, Asia
Minor and Persia.(11–13) Saffron is extensively grown in the East and the Mediterranean
basin since the Late Bronze Age.(1,14) Saffron has been cultivated as a spice for at least
3500 years in Egypt and Middle East. (15)
The wild source of domesticated C. sativus was C. cartwrightianus. Human cultivators
bred wild specimens by selecting for usually long stigmas. Thus, a sterile mutant from C.
cartwrightianus, C. sativus emerged in late Bronze Age.(14) The Romans introduced
saffron into Great Britain, while the Arabs brought saffron to Spain.(16)
There is no record available to show when the cultivation of saffron was started in
India, particularly in Kashmir, which is the only commercial saffron producing area in the
country. Historical accounts of saffron cultivation in Kashmir dates back to 550 AD.
Many experts believe that saffron, among other spices, was first spread to India via
Persian rulers’ efforts to stock their newly built gardens and parks. They accomplished
this by transplanting the desired cultivars across the Persian empire.(17) Another variant of
this theory states that, after ancient Persia conquered Kashmir, Persian saffron corms were
planted in Kashmiri soil. The first harvest thus occurred around 500 BC.(18) Saffron grow-
ing in Kashmir originated from Persia.(19) There are legends that support the view that saf-
fron was grown at Padampore (now called Pampore) about 13 km from Srinagar
(Kashmir), India. The cultivation in Kashmir has been extended beyond Pampore to other
alluvial plateaus of Budgam, Tsrar, and Southern Kashmir.
The word saffron is originated from the French term safran, which is derived from the
Latin word safranum. Safranum is also related to Italian zafferano and Spanish azafran.
Safranum comes from the Arabic word asfar which means “yellow,” via the anonymous
zafran, the name of the spice in Arabic.(20) Almost all European and several non-European
languages have loaned that name. Crocus is derived from the Greek word Corycus, the
name of an area in Cilcia in the eastern Mediterranean.
Distribution, Production, and Consumption
Saffron has long been cultivated in Iran, and it was traded to a number of other parts of the
world, due to its high quality and distinctive properties, which were understood over centu-
ries of its application. Saffron is currently being cultivated more or less intensely in Iran,
Spain, India, Greece, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, France, Switzerland, Israel, Pakistan,
Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Japan, and recently attempts have been
made to introduce this spice in non-traditional countries like Australia, New Zealand, USA,
Argentina, and Chile.(15) The world’s total annual saffron production is estimated to be 300 t/yr
of which Iran contributes 80% from an area of 50,000 ha.(15) Khorasan province in Iran alone
accounts for 46,000 ha of area under saffron crop. Spain is the second largest producer and
contributes about 10–12% of world’s production followed by India (3.3%), Greece (2.0%)
and Morocco (0.3%). In India, saffron is mainly grown in Srinagar (J & K), although attempts
have been made to introduce it in hilly regions of Uttranchal, Himachal Pradesh, and
Sikkim.(4,21–23) The Kashmir region in India produces saffron mostly for domestic use.(24)
Uses
saffron is credited with colouring, flavouring and therapeutical properties. The main uses
of Saffron are in the food, dairy and dye industries, and for cooking, medicines, cosmetics,
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46 Kumar et al.
perfumes, and flavoured tobacco. Saffron is used extensively in Arab, Central Asian,
European, Indian, Iranian, and Moroccan cuisines. Its aroma is described by cooking
experts and saffronologists as that of honey, with grassy, hay-like, and metallic notes.
Saffron’s taste is like that of hay but with hints of bitterness. Saffron also contributes a
luminous yellow-orange colouring to items it is soaked with. For these traits saffron is
used in baked goods, cheeses, confectionaries, curries, liquors, meat dishes, and soups.
Saffron is used in India, Iran, Spain, and other countries as a condiment for rice. It is also
used in Indian milk-based sweets(18) such as gulab jamun, kulfi, double ka meetha, and
“saffron lassi,” which is a spicy Jodhpuri yogurt-based drink. Saffron is used to impart
colour and flavour to many Mediterranean and oriental dishes, particularly rice, meat, fish,
and Scandinavian and Balkan breads. It is also used in perfumes and dyes.(25,26) It is also
used for colouring and flavour improving while giving a distinct aroma and a beautiful
golden colour in ice cream, sauce and dressings. In food processing, saffron is used as a
colorant in sausage, butter, cheese, puddings, pastry and confectionary, cooked rice cur-
ries, dairy products, alcoholic, and non-alcoholic beverages.(27–29)
Saffron is mostly used as spice and food colourant and less extensively as a textile dye
or perfume.(15) Only the stigmas of the flower along with the style tops are used medici-
nally, although high dosages (>30 g) can be toxic and abortive.(30) Saffron is credited with
various medicinal properties. In small doses, it acts as a mild stimulant and in large doses as
an aphrodisiac and narcotic. Since time immemorial, saffron has been used as a drug to
treat various human ailments such as cough, flatulence, stomachic disorder, colic, insom-
nia, chronic uterine haemorrhage, amenorrhoea, smallpox, asthma and cardiovascular dis-
orders.(3,31,32) It is also used to regulate menstrual disorders in women. Saffron is used in
weakness for rejuvenation. When saffron paste is applied on the forehead, it is said to cure
headaches. Some of its components have cytotoxic, anticarcinogenic and antitumor proper-
ties.(33–37) saffron is used in the treatment of mild to moderate depression and epilepsy
cases.(38–41) It has also been tested in rats in gastric ailments (42) and used as a pro-memory
agent.(43) Saffron is known to having anti-mutagenic (mutation preventing), immunomodu-
lating and anti-oxidant like properties.(44–46) Saffron has anti-convulsant activity.(47) It is
used as dye for clothes (48) and imparts colour and flavour to food additives.(49)
Chemistry
Saffron contains in excess of 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. It also has
numerous non-volatile active compounds many of which are carotenoids. The main con-
stituents of saffron are the carotenoids crocetin (also called α-crocetin or crocetin I). Its
glycosidic forms are digentiobioside (crocin), gentiobioside, glucoside, gentioglucoside
and diglucoside; β- crocetin (monoethyl ester), γ- crocetin (dimethylester), transcrocetin
isomer, 13-cis-crocetin isomer; α-carotene, β- carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin and man-
giocrocin, a xanthone carotenoid glycosidic conjugate.(15) Sources of strong coloring
capacity are glycosyl esters of crocetin carrying up to five glucoses, which are unusual
water-soluble carotenoids.(50) The digentiobiosyl ester of crocetin (C44H64O24), known as
crocin.(51) Crocin, the most abundant of these components, also occurs in fruit of Gardenia
jasminoides. The monoterpene aldehydes picrocrocin (C16H26O7) and its deglycosylated
derivate safranal (C10H14O), formed in saffron during drying and storage by hydrolysis of
picrocrocin are also important components of saffron, responsible for its bitter flavour and
aroma, respectively.(51-53) Odour (safranal), taste (picrocrocin), and pigment (crocin) com-
ponents (Fig. 1) are localized in the red stigmatic lobes of the saffron flower. Anthocyanins,
flavonoids, vitamins (riboflavin and thiamine), amino acids, proteins, starch, mineral
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 47
matter, gums, and other chemical compounds have also been described in saffron(3,25)
(Table 1).
Botanical Description
Saffron, a member of the Iridaceae family, is derived from the stigmas of flowers. The
taxonomic classification of C. sativus is as follows:
Figure 1. Important chemical constituents of saffron.
Safranal
CHO
CHO
o
O
OH
H
CH
2
OH
H
OH
H
H
HO
Picrocrocin
H
COO
O
O
H
H
H
H
HOH
H
OH
H
OH
OOC
HOOC COOH
O
O
OH
2
COH
2
C
CH
2
OH CH
2
OH
H
H
OH
H
H
H
H
OH OH OH
OH OH
OH OH
H
OH
Crocin
Crocetin
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48 Kumar et al.
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Asparagales
Family: Iridaceae
Genus: Crocus
Species: sativus
About 85 species of Crocus are distributed worldwide but only C. sativus has received
some attention and is cultivated in several countries. Saffron is a low-growing plant with
an underground globular corm. The plant is considered to be hysteranthous(54) as the flow-
ers arise directly from corms (stem).
Growth Pattern
The life cycle of saffron is similar in all producing countries, but there are wide differ-
ences in the timing of events.(55,56) The growth pattern of saffron is different from other
crops and it can be divided in to three stages viz., flowering, vegetative stage and forma-
tion of corms. Under Indian conditions, flowering occurs during autumn (October through
November), followed by vegetative stage throughout winter, and the formation of replace-
ment corms at the base of the shoots (Fig. 2). At the onset of dry season (April through
May), the leaves senesce and wither, and corms enter into dormancy. The transition from
the vegetative to reproductive stage occurs shortly afterwards in the apex of buds of
underground corms.(57) This transition has been reported to initiate during March in
Azerbaijan,(58,59) from March to april in Israel,(60) and during July in Kashmir.(61) Differ-
ences in corm size or seasonal variations have been considered as the cause of these differ-
ences in transition dates.(14)
Corm
The corm of saffron is an underground stem which is a compact mass of starch resembling
scaly leaves covered with closely reticulated sheath known as tunics (Fig. 3). Corm of saf-
fron is identical to gladiolus corm. The shape of the corm varies from flattened to ovoid or
Table 1
Chemical composition of saffron (%)
Component Mass%
Carbohydrates 12–15
Water 8–15
Protein 10–14
Total oils 5–9
Volatile 0.3–0.8
Nitrogen free extract 54–57
Fiber 4–5
Ash 4
Source: Ingram.(25)
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 49
sub-globose. Outwardly it gives an idea of a reservoir of stored food material.(62) Each
newly formed corm has 1 or 2 apical buds (from which new leaves, floral axis and 1 or
2 daughter corms are produced) and 4 to 7 secondary buds, placed irregularly in a spiral
form in the lower portion. The secondary buds produce a cauline axis and tuft of leaves
which draw nutrients through photosynthesis and grow.
Figure 2. Growth stages of saffron in Kashmir, India.
Corms Planting
(Sep.-Oct.)
Flowering
(Oct.-Nov.)
Vegetative
growth
(Dec.-April
under snow)
Withering of
leaves (May)
Cormlets
uprooting
(July-Aug.)
Figure 3. Saffron corms.
Tunics
Shoot
initiation
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50 Kumar et al.
Root System
The roots are adventitious, growing from the bottom of the corm.(62) Saffron corms pro-
duce three types of roots viz., absorbing roots (fibrous), contractile roots, contractile-
absorbing roots which are different in structure and function.(63) The fibrous roots
emerge from a single ring at the base of the corms. These roots are straight and thin
(about 1 mm thick). These roots absorb water and nutrients. The contractile roots have
the appearance of a tuber organ, very large and whitish, which at the very beginning was
named dropper (Fig. 4). Pulling and pushing activity of contractile roots enables corm to
move into the ground, so that corm rest at optimum depth and position in the soil.(64)
Phenolic compounds, especially p-coumaric acid, had positive effect on their formation,
growth, and contraction.(65) The other types of roots are contractile absorbing roots,
which are thinner and longer than the contractile ones and develop on the corm near the
sprouting buds bearing the contractile roots. These roots appear after the contractile
ones.(60)
Leaves
Saffron leaves are radical, long, slender grass like, channeled, with curved and fringed
margins; they are grey green in colour with a white shade on the lower surface, and have a
lower leaf surrounded by sheaths of thin translucent, whitish tissue.(62) Leaves of saffron
reach a length up to 50 cm (Fig. 4). Leaf emergence coincides or occurs shortly after flow-
ering. Each corm produces 6–15 leaves.(15)
Flowers
Each corm produces 1–3 purple flowers having three violet sepals and three similar petals
together (Fig. 5). The pistil is central with a tubular ovary having a thin style. The flower
usually appears in autumn (September–November) with the leaves and is marked by its
large perianth, which is tube-like and slender funnel shaped. The limb of the perianth is
sub-equally six-lobed in two series. The six segments are almost equal in form and size,
Figure 4. A view of saffron plant.
Leaves
Fibrous
roots
Contractile
roots
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 51
though the inner ones are invariably somewhat shorter than the outer ones and are
concave, narrow, and oblong. The throat of the tube is bearded. The flowers are hysterant-
hous to sub-hysteranthous.(66) Eight percent of the total fresh flower yield constitutes the
saffron of commerce.(67,68) In the corms formed at the base of the nonflowering shoot,
flower formation is usually restricted to the apical and dominant bud. In those corms
formed at the base of a flowering shoot, flower formation may occur in two or three of the
buds closest to the apex.(69)
Androecium
Three stamens are attached to the base of the outer segments, i.e., on the throat of the peri-
anth (Fig. 5). The filaments are short and free and anthers are yellow in colour, long and
basifixed.(70)
Gynoecium
Gynoecium comprise of ovary, style and stigma.(70) The style is thread-like and branches
into three style arms, i.e., stigmas, which are extended and protrude from the perianth;
they are tubular, characteristic reddish or orange red in colour and subclavate.(15) The
stigma constitute the saffron of commerce and length varies from 2.0 to 3.2 cm forming a
tube narrower on the base, where it joins the style but it broadens towards the upper
extremity, where it is a slit on the inner side (Fig. 5). One stigma of saffron weighs
about 2 mg, each flower has three stigmata and 150,000 flowers are required to produce
1 kg spice.(15) The ovary is three celled, egg shaped, and hidden between the bases of the
leaves. The capsule is spindle shaped and the seeds are round.
Environmental Versatility
The objective of this section is to describe and discuss briefly the relationship between
selected environmental variables and agronomic responses of saffron. Saffron has been
Figure 5. Saffron flower.
Petals
Androecium
Stigma
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52 Kumar et al.
successfully grown apparently under different geographic locations of the world. Distribu-
tion range of Crocus spp. is between 10 °W and 80 °E longitude, 30 and 50 °N latitude.(71)
Although saffron originated in Mediterranean countries, it is cultivated in Italy at an altitude
of 650–1100 m, (72) and flourishes at 2140 m above mean sea level (amsl) in Kashmir,
India. (73) Agroclimatically, this crop can be cultivated from 1500–2800 m amsl in temper-
ate, semi-arid, and arid areas.(74) Panwar et al. (75) reported successful saffron cultivation
between 1500 to 2000 m amsl, whereas, Mathur (76) reported 1300–2500 m amsl, with
2000 m amsl the best altitude for flowering. Nevertheless, it thrives best in warm sub-tropical
climate, where frost and rains are absent during flowering. In Spain, it is reported to be
grown in dry temperate conditions with annual rainfall less than 400 mm. Selected loca-
tions in the world where saffron is grown are presented in Table 2.
Temperature
Temperature is the most important environmental factor controlling growth and flowering
in Crocus species.(84) The influence of a constant temperature regime on flower formation
of saffron is quite important. Unusual low temperature coupled with high humidity during
the short period of flowering adversely affects flower production. Duke(85) reported that
mean annual temperature of 16 saffron growing sites of the world ranges from 5.9 to
18.6°C and rainfall from 420–1370 mm. Flower initiation occurs as the temperature rises
above 20°C during late spring, whereas, flower emergence occurs as temperature falls
below 16°C. Plessner et al.(86) showed that it was possible to induce flowering of saffron
before leaf emergence by storing corms in dry vermiculite at 15°C for 35 days and then
transferring them to controlled conditions in phytotron (moist growing media, 16 h 17°C
day/12°C night photoperiod). Optimum temperature for flower emergence should be
lower than for flower formation.(69) This fact explains the difference in the timing of
flower initiation in locations with contrasting climates. Later, Molina et al.(57) stated that
the optimum temperature for flower initiation and development of the corms is in the
range of 23–27°C, with 23°C being marginally better for formation of maximum number
of flowers. Incubation at these temperatures should exceed 50 days, although incubation
Table 2
Selected locations where saffron is grown
Location LatitudeaLongitudeaAltitudeaReferences
Birjand, Iran 32° 53 N59° 13 E 1491 m (77)
Ferdows, Iran 34° 16 N58° 10 E 1213 m (79)
Ghaen, Iran 31° 01 N59° 10 E 1440 m (77)
Kargil, (J&K), India 3200 m (80)
Kashmir, (J&K), India 34° 03 N74° 54 E 2140 m (73)
La Mancha, Spain 39° 10 N02° 54 W 610 m (83)
Navelli, Italy 42° 14 N13° 44 E 650–1100 m (72)
Neishbor, Iran 36° 16 N58° 48 E 1290 m (79)
Sahr-Kord, Iran 32° 19 N50° 51 E 2066 m (78)
Sangla, (HP), India 31° 25 N78° 15 E 2680 m (81)
Taliouine, Morocco 30° 36 N08° 25 W 1200–1400 m (82)
aApproximate and not the exact location where experiment was done.
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 53
longer than 150 days resulted in flower abortion. Flower emergence required the transfer
of the corms from the conditions of flower formation to a markedly lower temperature,
i.e., 17°C. Transfer of the corms after flower initiation at a temperature lower than 15–17°C
resulted in a reduction in flower formation.
Weather conditions, especially in December, had greater effect on corm yield than did
the size of the original planting material.(87) The dry temperate region of Himachal
Pradesh, India, where temperature remains between 12–18°C and night temperatures
between 4–5°C during the months of September to October, is ideal for its cultivation.(23)
A cloudy night gives rise to maximum production of flowers the following morning. Rainfall
during August through September is helpful in boosting early flowering for higher pro-
duction. Dry and moderately humid weather during flowering is considered ideal. Frost
during flowering period hampers flowering considerably and adversely affects productivity.
In Palampur (HP), mean air temperature during September through October ranges from
19–23°C, and during November through December, it declines to 8–13°C (30 year aver-
age) which is ideal for saffron cultivation (Kumar, personal communication). Saffron has
a growth period of 220 days. Climatic conditions favourable for high yields of saffron are
autumn rains, warm summers and mild winters.(15) Temperature ranges of the saffron
growing regions of the world are given in Table 3.
Photoperiod has a considerable influence on the flowering of saffron and an optimum
period of 10–11 h illumination is desirable. (73) Bryan(90) reported that crocuses flower in
full sun and partial shade and the shaded areas must have at least 4 h sun/day.
Soil Requirement
Saffron grows best in friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay, cal-
careous soils having high organic content. Alkaline soil is supposed to be desirable for
giving better stand of the crop.(91) The saffron growing soils of Kashmir possess somewhat
Table 3
Climatic characteristics of major saffron growing areas
Location
Maximum
temperature
(°C)
Minimum
temperature
(°C)
Mean annual
temperature
(°C) Rainfall
(mm) References
Azerbaijan 33.2* –5.9* 14.4 (59)
Ferdows, Iran 49.6 –12.0 158.8 (79)
Neishabor, Iran 41.2 –17.6 222.5 (79)
Greece 13.5–19.0** 6–7** 500 (88)
Navelli, Italy 20–22* 2–5* 11.3 700 (72)
Kozani, Italy 22.5* 2.5* 12.5 (72)
Sardinia, Italy 25* 10.0* 16–20 (72)
La mancha, Spain 25* 5.7* 16–20 (72)
Tailouine, Morroco 25–30 100–200 (82)
New Zealand 10.1–13.3 380–1201 (89)
Sangla, India 23.9* –4.3 104 (23)
*Average annual temperature.
**During October–November.
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54 Kumar et al.
high colour value, are more alkaline and markedly higher alkaline earth carbohydrates(92)
than those of adjacent non-saffron growing areas. They have been classified as belonging
to the fine, mixed, mesic calcareous family of vertic hapludalfs and typic eutrocherpts.
It requires sandy to sandy loam soils.(73) Dhar(66) advocates that acidic and highly alkaline
soil are unsuitable, whereas pH of soil in the range of 6.8 to 7.8 is considered optimum.
In humid and water-logged soils, corm rotting takes place. Ganai et al.(93) studied morpholog-
ical and physico-chemical characteristics of saffron growing soils of Jammu and Kashmir,
India, and reported that soils are heavy textured with silty clay loam as the predominant
texture in the upper horizons and silty clay in lower horizons. The average organic carbon
and calcium carbonate content was 0.35 and 4.61% respectively. High calcium carbonate
is desirable for growth of the crop. (94,95)
Cultivation
The saffron crop thrives best in climate similar to that of the Mediterranean region, where
hot, dry summer breezes blow across arid and semi-arid lands. Nevertheless, the plant can
tolerate cold winters, surviving frosts as cold as –10°C and short periods of snow
cover.(96,97) Saffron plants grow poorly in shady conditions and grow best in direct
sunlight. Thus, planting is best done in fields that slope towards the sunlight (i.e., south
sloping in the Northern Hemisphere). Old planting is replaced when saffron yield starts
declining because of crowding of corms and cultivation becomes uneconomical. However,
in Italy saffron is grown as an annual crop and in France it is uprooted after 3 years.(14)
In Spain, corms are uprooted after every fourth year.(98)
Souret and Weathers, (99) while comparing 3 culture systems viz. aeroponic, hydro-
ponic, and soil culture in USA, reported that corm growth on dry weight basis was greater
in aeroponic and hydroponic cultures, but the production of stigmas and the concentration of
the main constituents of saffron in the stigmas were similar in all the three culture systems.
Omidbaigi et al.(79) studied the effect of cultivation sites on quality of saffron in Iran and
reported that quantity and quality of saffron (except aroma property) of Neishabor (North
Khorasan) region was better than saffron produced in Ferdows region (South khorasan),
Iran. In Iran, Keyhani et al.(100) cultivated saffron under various environmental conditions
(1) in pots, using field cultivation soil; (2) in semi-liquid agar medium; and (3) in liquid
medium, and reported that root elongation was four times higher in soil than in liquid
medium. Cavusoglu and Erkel(101) studied growing feasibility of saffron under plastic tun-
nel and field in Kocaeli province conditions of Turkey and obtained highest corm size and
longest flowering time from plastic tunnel but highest saffron yield (fresh and dry) from
field conditions. Maggio et al.(102) confirmed that soilless systems can be efficiently utilized
for saffron production. They tested the effect of different substrates (peat and perlite) and
environmental conditions (cold glasshouse and climatic chamber) and obtained highest saf-
fron yield in perlite compared to peat/perlite mixture. The yields obtained in glasshouse and
growth chambers were doubled compared to traditional field cultivation. Yau et al.(103)
reported that saffron produced at the coastal site had more colouring strength and bitter-
ness than that produced at the high-elevation site in Lebanon.
Land Preparation
Good land preparations are necessary to create friable and loose texture for saffron culti-
vation. The field is ploughed 4–5 times to a depth of 30–35 cm to bring the soil into fine
tilth. This is followed by a ploughing and leveling. The field should be cleared off from all
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 55
the weed growth, penetrating roots, and stubble stones. For ease in weeding, hoeing, and
irrigation, raised beds of convenient size preferably of 1.2–1.5 m width and 15–20 cm
height should be made. Paths may be made 30-cm wide in between the beds, which also
act as drainage channels. This prevents undesirable high moisture content in the top 15–20 cm
of the soil. In sandy to sandy loam soils and dry temperate regions where rainfall is of low
intensity, raised bed may not be necessary. However, under Palampur conditions, raised
beds are necessary to drain excess water (Kumar personal communication) (Fig. 6).
Propagation
Saffron is triploid (2n = 3x = 24) and fails to produce seed upon selfing or crossing.(71,104)
Therefore, the crop is propagated by daughter corms produced from the mother corms.(105)
During each season, new corms are formed above the old ones, which wither and eventu-
ally rot away. Each corm produces 4–10 daughter corms, so the crop rapidly increases in
density (Fig. 7).
Planting Time
Planting of a crop at the appropriate time is an important non-monetary agronomic
input.(106) The planting period of saffron varies from region to region depending upon
climatic conditions. Srivastava(62) advocated that middle July was the best time for planting
corms in Almora (U.P.), India, rather than August or September. Koltsova(107) observed
that for autumn-flowering plants, late August to mid-September was the best period in
Crimea, USSR. Rehman and Lodhi(108) reported that corm yields were highest from mid-
July plantings, lowest from August plantings and intermediate from June plantings in
Baluchistan region of Pakistan. In Iran, Sadeghi(109) concluded that the best time for planting
and displacement of saffron corms to new farms is from mid-May and especially early in
Figure 6. Saffron field view at IHBT, Palampur, India.
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56 Kumar et al.
June. In Italy, saffron is planted in the second fortnight in August, in Spain from 15–30
June, in Greece before the middle of September and in India from middle of July to
August.(72) Planting on 15th November and 1st December produced significantly more
cormels per mother corm as compared to 16th December under Varanasi conditions in U.P.
(India).(110)
Spacing/Crop Density
Spacing is a parameter decided by the crop spread so as not to interfere with the develop-
ment of the adjoining corms. Munshi and Baba(111) recorded maximum and minimum num-
bers of flowers/m2 with spacing of 15 × 5 cm and 20 × 15 cm, respectively. Under dry
temperate conditions of Sangla, Himachal Pradesh (India) a spacing of 20 × 20 cm is found
ideal(75) when the crop is to be taken as perennial for 10 years. However, Badiyala and
Saroch(112) observed that a closer row spacing of 10 × 7.5 cm yields higher in initial years
of planting than 15 × 10 and 20 × 15 cm under Sangla (Kinnaur), India. In Morocco, 2 × 2 m
raised beds were made with rows 20 cm apart and bunches of 2 to 3 corms were planted
10–15 cm apart within rows.(82) However, in Greece, corms are planted in furrows formed
with a plough at a distance of 25 × 12 cm.(88) In Italy, where saffron is planted annually, the
best yield of flower and corm productions were obtained by planting corms at a spacing of
2–3 cm in furrows.(13) Likewise, spacing of 20 × 5 cm has been reported to be optimum in
Kishtwar (J & K), India.(113)
Spacing has the greatest bearing on yield and subsequent production of corms. Dhar(54)
reported that large size corms were produced under low density, whereas, at higher densi-
ties smaller sized corms were produced. While comparing 10 planting densities from 49 to
256 corms/m2 planting, arrangement of 49/m2 (14 × 14 cm) spacing recorded higher flow-
ering and daughter corm weight than other densities in Kashmir, India.(114) Bullitta
et al.(115) recorded highest saffron yield at crop density of 67/m2 in comparison to 33, 40,
Figure 7. Cormlets produced from single corm under Palampur conditions.
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 57
and 50/m2, whereas, Juan et al.(116) reported that big sized corms planted at 200 and 300/m2
resulted in the highest corm yield (28.4 and 36.3 ton/ha, respectively) at Albacete in
Spain.
Corm Size / Corm Weight
Bulb and corm size is a major factor to determine the capacity of bulbous plants to
flower.(54,117,118) Corm size has a significant effect on the production of daughter corms,
flowers and yield of saffron. The larger the mother corm, the more daughter corms are
produced in the annual cycle, which influences production of flowers/plant, as higher
number of shoots form on larger corms.(119) A positive correlation was demonstrated
between corm size and flowering in C. sativus by Negbi et al.(105) and Singh et al.(120)
Below the potential size (below 10 g), corms neither give flowers in the same year nor
in the following years. Thus, planting large sized corms (4–5 cm in diameter) provides
better yields. (121,122) However, Badiyala and Saroch (112) and Ram et al.(113) reported that
corms with 2.5 cm diameter also increased the flower yield, as well as regeneration capac-
ity of the corms. Corms measuring 3.5 cm and weighing 20 g yielded four times more
flowers than corms that weighed only 10 g. (123) Similarly, Bullita et al.,(124) Cavusoglu
and Erkel,(101) Pandey et al.,(125) and Zaffer et al.(80) also reported that corms of 3.5 cm or
more in diameter gave the best results. Yatoo et al.(126) reported that bigger corms (>3 cm
diameter) produced 7.9% more dry saffron/ha compared to smaller sized corm (1.5–2.5-cm
diameter) in Kashmir, India. Likewise, Juan et al.(116) recorded highest flower yield from big
sized corms in Spain. Munshi et al.(127) advocated that large corms (3.25–3.75 cm)
recorded the highest stigma length (4.93 ± 0.95 cm), number of flower/corm (2.45 ± 0.40),
leaf length (47.00 ± 1.78 cm), and number of daughter corms/mother corm (8.50 ± 0.98) in
Kargil, India.
An increase in corm weight above a specific value caused a reduction in the number
of flowers per corm possibly due to aging.(128) DeMastro and Ruta (119) recorded maxi-
mum number of flowers/plant (10–12) with larger size corm (40–50 g) than frequent size
(20–30 g) in Italy. Planting large corms has a well documented beneficial effect on subse-
quent flowering and spice production in the year of planting;(105,125,129) however,
McGimpsey et al.(89) reported that significant effect of corm size on flowering did not
become evident until the second season in New Zealand. Omidbaigi(130) obtained high
quality saffron stigma by planting corms of 15 g weight in Iran. In Palampur conditions,
we obtained maximum 3 flower/corm with 3.2 cm stigma length and corm with 16.5 g
weight or 3.5 cm diameter size (Fig. 8).
Seed/Corm Rate
The seed rate/corm rate/ha depends upon corm size/corm weight, crop duration and spac-
ing. About 25–30 quintals of saffron corm or about 500,000 number of corms of average
diameter of 2.5 cm are required to plant in 1 ha,(74) whereas, Ram et al.(113) reported that
about 40 q of corms of suitable size (2.5 cm diameter) with average weight of 10 g are
required for planting 1 ha of land in Kishtwar, India. In Italy, where the crop is planted
annually, the optimum corm quantity/ha is 130–150 q which is about 6 to 7 lakh corms
with an average weight of 20–22 g each.(72) In Morocco, 30 q of corms are used/ha.(82)
In Greece, 20–30 q of saffron corms or about 230,000–250,000 corms with an average
diameter of 2.2–2.5 cm are used/ha.(88)
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58 Kumar et al.
Planting Depth
Planting of corm of saffron at appropriate depth also influences yield of saffron. When the
corms are planted shallow (< 8–10 cm), the contractile roots become large and fleshy, in
which case the daughter corm does not grow, as the reserve material is stored in these
roots and the mother corm is totally consumed by them.(105) In sandy soils, as found in
Israel, saffron was found to be capable of emerging from planting depths of 30 cm,(131)
whereas, Nazir et al.(132) planted saffron at a depth from 7.5 to 17.5 cm in Soan valley,
Khushab, Iran, and reported longer leaves (48.70 cm), higher number of tillers/plant
(29.24), and higher flower/plant (22.33) by planting saffron at 7.5 cm depth. However,
Dhar(66) advocated that shallow planting is undesirable as the corms get exposed to freez-
ing cold in winter and high temperature in summer which adversely affects growth.
Recommended planting depths for corms vary from 7.5–10 to 15–22 cm in different
regions depending upon the soil texture. In Italy, planting depths of 15 cm gave better
yield than shallower or deeper planting. Planting depth affects corm production, since
more buds sprout from shallow planted corms than from deep planted corms, which
results in more daughter corms.(72)
Intercropping and Crop Rotation
Saffron is a summer dormant (June to August) and winter active perennial crop, which pro-
vides an opportunity to cultivate short duration varieties of other crops. Eleven intercrop
systems were evaluated against pure damask rose (Rosa damascena Mill.) for their pro-
ductivity efficiency in Kashmir (India). Productivity efficiency of the rose- saffron inter-
crop system over 3 years averaged the highest land equivalent ratio, area time equivalent
ratio, and monetary equivalent ratio as compared to other intercrop systems and pure
rose.(133) In dry temperate conditions at Sangla (HP), India, saffron- kalazira out-yielded
all other cropping sequences with frenchbean, rajmash, sarson since there was no competi-
tion between saffron and kalazira.(23) They further reported that saffron cultivation can be
taken up successfully under almond or apricot plantation. Almond plants shed their leaves
Figure 8. Three saffron flowers produced from single corm under Palampur conditions.
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 59
before the active growth period of saffron, which helps light penetration to the crop plants
in sufficient quantity. Under apple plantations, saffron cultivation is successful only dur-
ing the initial stages of establishment at Sangla.
In Kashmir, India, rotation of saffron with cereals like wheat and mustard is generally
followed by cultivators. Saffron is grown for 8–10 years continuously in the same field
then followed by wheat-barley-oilseeds-wheat- saffron (i.e., saffron brought in again after
a lapse of 4 year).(62,91) In Spain, crop is dug after 4 years in May, while in Kashmir corms
are dug out in late August at the end of 6 to 8 years (73) and uneven fields get exhausted
sooner than plain ones. In Italy, saffron is rotated with lucerne and wheat.(72)
Nutrient Management
Important cultivation care procedures are applied to increase productivity during saffron
production through proper plant nutrition. Manures and fertilizer both play important roles
in saffron cultivation, although saffron needs low amounts of nutrients. If in addition to
flowers, saffron leaves are harvested, for each ton of leaves, 10.2 kg nitrogen (N), 3.2 kg
phosphorus (P), and 22.8 kg potassium (K) are removed from soil.(134) Use of manures
generally improves the physical condition and structure of the soil and its water-holding
capacity. Farm yard manure (FYM) as a basal dressing has been recommended at the rate
of 15–22 ton/ha at Ranikhet,(50,135) 20 ton in Greece,(136) 15–20 ton in Kashmir,(126,137)
30 ton in Sangla, India,(138) and Italy,(139) and 40 ton in Iran.(77)
Applying manures alone cannot meet the nutritional requirements of saffron;
however, the combination of N, P, and K (NPK) plus organic manures improves flower
production/yield and quality.(121) Organic manure is important for promoting saffron pro-
duction in soils that are poor in organic carbon. It is, therefore, indispensable to supple-
ment manures with chemical fertilizers to get higher yields. Addition of 30 ton cow
manure plus 50 kg ammonium phosphate/ha recorded significant increase in the saffron
yield due to low organic compound of the soil at one site, whereas, in another site 100 kg
urea/ha alone gave the highest flower yield in a 8 year study in Iran.(140) The time of fertil-
izer application was after flower picking and just prior to second irrigation. Further,
Behzad et al.(141) compared the effects of different combinations of NPK and cow manure
on saffron production over 8 years and reported that N had maximum effect in increasing
the flower yield. In sandy soils, addition of 20 ton organic matter along with 100 kg (N+
P+ K)/ha resulted in highest saffron yield.(124)
Results from The Netherlands demonstrated that highest yield of corm on sandy and
light sandy soils were obtained with a total annual application (basal plus two top dress-
ings) of 150 kg N/ha. (142) Whereas, under rainfed conditions, Munshi et al.(143) empha-
sized application of 20 kg N, 80 kg P, and 20 kg K in equal split doses, first at the time of
planting or before final hoeing (i.e. first week of September) and second when flowering
is over (i.e., third week of November) along with 20 ton FYM/ha in Jammu and Kashmir.
Under rainfed conditions in Kashmir, N and K at 30 kg and P at 40 kg/ha was found
ideal.(113,144) The fertilizers were applied in two equal splits, one during the first week of
September and other during the third week of November. Higher dose of N, P, and
K(N
90P60K60/ha) was significantly superior in increasing saffron yield at Sangla
(Kinnaur) India.(145,146) However, significant increase in saffron yield was recorded up to
medium level of nutrient (45–50–30 kg/ha) of N, P, and K and highest level (20 ton/ha) of
FYM in Kashmir, India.(126) Singh et al.(147) studied the interaction effect of P and K and
obtained 125.64% increase in saffron yield over control by applying 35 kg P and 30 kg K/ha
at Kishtwar (J&K), India.
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60 Kumar et al.
Under Iranian conditions, yield of saffron increased by 33% by applying 46 kg N/ha
in the form of urea and 30 ton manure/ha.(148) Likewise, Hosseini et al.(149) also reported
that spraying of fertilizer in the month of March increased the number of flowers by 33%.
Boynton(150) has earlier reported about influence of foliar fertilization for elimination of
nutrient deficiency in crops and horticultural plants. Application of potassium, increases
K content and chlorophyll, the relative content of ATP (adenosine tri phosphate) and net
photosynthetic rate in the leaves.(151) Unal and Cavusoglu(152) studied the effect of various
nitrogen fertilizers on saffron in Turkey and reported that urea gave the highest number of
flowers and fresh and dry saffron weight while calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) gave
maximum plant height.
Water Requirement
Not much work has been done on water requirements in saffron because the water require-
ments are low and it is cultivated under irrigated or rainfed conditions.(15) In Kashmir,
saffron is grown as a rainfed crop (1000–1500 mm/annum). Due to water scarcity, production
of saffron in Kashmir is declining. Low or late rainfall is often to blame, along with the
absence of adequate irrigation systems in Kashmir valley of India.
Irrigation at 350–500 m3 of water/ha is typically performed once a week from
September to November and every other week from December to March. No irrigation is
given during the months of April- August which corresponds to the period of deep corm
dormancy in Morocco.(82)
Moisture in early spring is needed for corm development,(129) while rain immediately
before flowering enhances flower yield. It is perhaps the moisture in the soil that stimu-
lates the floral elongation. Light irrigation during early autumn months helps to accelerate
blooming and increase crop production. In Spain, saffron is grown in dry temperate condi-
tions with an annual rainfall of around 400 mm, yet the crop is irrigated. In Greece, saffron
growing areas have 500 mm annual rainfall. Critical periods of irrigation include March
and April, when the corms grow, followed by September for quantitative and qualitative
improvement of the crop.(88)
Srivastava(62) reported that irrigation during mid-September is most critical to initiate
proper growth of corms and good harvest of flowers as irrigation during this period equals
to three irrigations. Three irrigations at an interval of 15 days during August to September
helped accelerating early blooming and thereby increased saffron yield at Sangla (Kinnaur)
India.(23) The beds can be irrigated once or twice, during March-April depending upon the
soil and climatic conditions.
Weed Management
Saffron is a slow and low-growing crop; therefore, it faces a severe infestation from
large number of weeds. Crops that are overgrown with weeds show poor flowering or
just die. Several weeds like Anagalis arvensis, Avena fatua, Digitaria sanguinalis,
Equisetum sp., Cyperus aristatus, Malva rotundifolia, Malva verticillata, Portulaca ole-
racea, Gallinsoga parviflora, Chenopodium album, Chenopodium amranticolor,
Stellaria media, Echinochloa crusgalli, Poa annua, Allium wallichi, and Medicago fal-
cata are reported to be present in saffron culture.(88,153,154) Weeds are mainly controlled
mechanically, while this is the most effective and environmental friendly method, it is
also the most expensive. The first hoeing or weeding or light ploughing is done in the
month of August.
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 61
Although there is a growing emphasis to produce organic saffron, the need for chemical
weed control measures is critical. Very little work has been done on this aspect. Hetman and
Laskowska (153) reported in Poland that the most efficient method for weed control till the
end of the vegetative period was fluorochloridon and simazine applied in autumn and cyna-
zine, matamitron applied in spring season. Bullitta et al.(115) observed that chlorthal and gly-
phosate gave promising control of weeds between rows of crocus until the inter-row space
becomes too narrow in Sardinia, Spain. Studies conducted at Sangla in Himachal Pradesh
(India), revealed paraquat @ 0.6 kg/ha or hand weeding followed by pendimethalin @
1.5 kg/ha or metolachlor @ 1.5 kg/ha or fluchloralin @ 1.0 kg/ha helped in effectively manag-
ing the weeds in saffron. Atrazine was found toxic to saffron plants.(154) In Greece, Goliaris(88)
achieved best control of weeds with herbicides simazine and atrazine at @ 1.0 kg/ha.
Vafabakhsh(155) observed that metribuzin applied either post or pre-emergence gave
better control than other treatments in Torbat, Iran. Fusilade and betanal are also reported
effective in controlling grassy and broad leaved weeds in saffron.(156)
Growth Regulators
Growth of the plants is controlled and integrated by a number of different and distinct hor-
mones. The mechanism controlling the onset of renewed bud growth and development of
floral primordial in corms of saffron appears to be under the control of several biochemical/
physiological signals, all of which must be permissive to initiate renewed bud growth.(157)
Exogenously applied growth regulators have been investigated in relation to floral devel-
opment by many workers.
Overnight soaking of saffron corms in 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid solution (50 ppm)
considerably increased growth in terms of plant height, number of leaves/corm and num-
ber of daughter corm/mother corm.(158) Gibberallic acid (GA) @ 0.001–0.01% or kinetin
(Kn) @ 0.005- or 0.001% stimulated growth and formation of additional buds.(159) This
lead to the formation of more flowers, and increased saffron yield. GA increased the yield
of dry stigmas by 130–150%. The best results were obtained by soaking corms in July.(160)
A single application of GA (100 or 500 mg /corm) to dormant corms as a concentrated
microdrop in the apical notch, promoted sprouting and bud development, increased the
number of flowers formed, saffron yield and the weight of daughter corms/plant. Naphthalene
acetic acid (NAA) @ 100 mg/corm suppressed bud growth and flowering but released apical
dominance in the buds.(161)
Picci (121) recorded numerous new corm production after indole acetic acid (IAA) and
GA treatment, but corms were too small for use as planting material in the following
season in Italy. However, Chrungoo and Farooq(162) applied GA and NAA on dormant
saffron corms and observed early bud formation by accumulation of reducing sugars,
resulting in premature sprouting of the plant. They further described that NAA treatment
also helps to accumulate total pentose and suppresses the accumulation of ketones.
The application of GA and NAA to dormant corms of saffron crocus @ 100 mg/corm
stimulated the degradation of starch and the accumulation of soluble sugars in corm
tissues immediately following treatment.(163) Greenberg-Kasalasi(60) treated corms with
gibberellins4+7 before planting and obtained lesser number of sprouting buds, resulting in
fewer daughter corms, although the apical ones grew larger.
Chahota et al.(81) reported that GA spray on standing plants in the month of October
was more effective to produce higher numbers of daughter corms, whereas, corms of
potential size were produced at lower concentration (25 ppm) of GA and NAA spray
under dry temperate conditions of Sangla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Kaushal and Rana(164)
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62 Kumar et al.
observed that 100 ppm concentration of GA were most effective in increasing growth and
yield of saffron at Palampur (HP), India. They further state that when corms were chilled
in deep freezer at 3°C for 1 month and treated with GA (100 ppm) for 1 h, the response
was doubled.
Biotic Stresses
Saffron crop is affected by several biotic stresses. Corm rot is the most serious disease of saf-
fron, which is caused by soil-borne fungi viz. Rhizoctonia sp., Pythium sp., Fusarium solani,
Phoma crocophila, Macrophomina phaseolina, and a species of Basidomycotina.(73,165) The
infected corms developed red, brown, black, and white colour symptoms. Charcoal rot of
saffron caused by Macrophomina phaseolina was reported by Carta et al.(166) for the first
time in Italy. In India, Thakur et al.(167) reported corm rot of saffron caused by Macro-
phomina phaseolina with 30–40% corms showing symptoms. The disease was noticed
during planting. Occurrence of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Gladoli on saffron in Italy had
been reported by Cappelli.(168) In Italy, Francesconi(169) reported corm rot of saffron
caused by Penicillium cyclopium when July through August was warm and damp. Damaged
corms were most susceptible to diseases. The primary symptoms of rotting appear during
flowering stage causing yellowing and wilting of shoots due to basal stem rot and the
development of white rounded spots on the corm.(170) Black powdery appearance devel-
oped beneath the outer layer of the corm.
Shah and Srivastava(171) obtained successful control of corm rot of saffron caused by
Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Gladioli with difolatan (80% captafol), bavistin (carbendazim)
or benlate (benomyl) each at 0.2% by dipping the corm for 20 min before planting. White
grubs and corm rot caused by Fusarium sp. sometimes causes serious threat to saffron pro-
ductivity. Chlorpyriphos or phorate 10 G or quinalphos 5 G, 25–30 kg/ha at planting help
effectively in checking the attack of white grubs.(172)
Saffron is infested by different types of viruses’ viz., bean yellow mosaic virus
(BYMV), tobacco rattle virus and arabis mosaic virus.(83) Kaneshige et al.(173) reported
BYMV on the leaves of saffron in Japan. Miglino et al.(174) reported first time Narcissus
Mosaic Virus (NMV) infecting Crocus sp. cultivars in the Netherlands.
While mice and moles cause considerable damage to saffron crop by doing away with
the corms, crows also inflict damage to sprouting flowers causing a great loss.(73) An
unusual pest in C. sativus is the cantharidine beetle, which attack the flower early in the
day in search of honey and damage the stigma.(129) Chandel et al.(175) reported saffron as a
new host of blister beetle (Mylabris macilenta).
Harvesting
Harvesting the flowers and separation of stigmas from the flower is a most difficult opera-
tion. It is time consuming, laborious and makes saffron the expensive spice of the world.
Picking of 1000 flowers requires 45–55 min, and another 100–130 min is required for
removing the stigmas for drying. Thus, 370–470 h are required to produce 1 kg of dried
saffron.(3) The flowers are picked exactly when they are fully bloomed and the saffron
strand or stigma is at its reddest. The harvesting must begin shortly after dawn. If left
exposed to the sun, saffron quickly loses its colour and flavour and withers under the sun
light. The task includes picking the flowers and separating the stigmas from the petals and
stamens. Flowers are picked at the base of the segments, and put into basket in thin layers
to avoid excess pressure and deformation of flowers organs, particularly of the stigmas.
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 63
Immediately after harvest, the flowers are brought indoors for separation. During the pro-
cess, the stigmas plus the uppermost 2 mm of style are separated from the rest of the
organs. If the style portion is longer than 2 mm, saffron is considered to be of inferior
quality.(82)
Crop Productivity
Saffron is a perennial crop which can be maintained up to 6–10 years. However, in Italy it
is grown as an annual crop. The yield of dry red saffron largely depends on weather and
soil conditions and the inter-culture treatments the crop has received. Yield is relatively
low in the first year and increases to maximum in the third to fourth year after planting.
Saffron yield can vary from 1.5 to 15.0 kg/ha, based on planting density, plantation age
and climatic conditions during the crop season.(14)
Badiyala and Saroch(112) obtained dry saffron yield of 3.8 kg/ha under temperate con-
ditions, whereas, Singh et al.(147) recorded yield of 2.9 kg/ha under rainfed conditions in
Kishtwar, India.
In Greece, saffron yield has been recorded to be 3.0 kg/ha in the first year, 10.0 kg/ha
in the second, 15.0 kg in third and fourth year and diminishing to 10.0 kg/ha in the fifth
and sixth year.(88) On average, a hectare within 6 years produces (a) 60.0 kg of red saffron
(stigma and styles) or (b) 20.0 kg yellow saffron (stamen). In Spain, the average yield of
saffron is around 10.0–12.5 kg/ha, whereas, yields under unfertilized and rainfed condi-
tions in Kashmir only reach 1.5–3.0 kg/ha.(14)
The average yield in Morocco varies from 2.0 to 2.5 kg/ha, which is low in compari-
son to modern saffron plantations in Spain or Italy where rain and irrigation during corm
formation and plant growth significantly reduces the yield.(82) One kg of intact flowers
yield 72 g of fresh saffron (stigmas), which in turn yields 12 g of dry saffron. The final
product retains about 5–20% moisture.
The average saffron yield of commercial fields in Khorasan (Iran) province is
4.4 kg/ha.(77) In Navelli (Italy), the average yields of the dry product/ha is 10–16 kg.
Saffron production in Navelli region of Italy has the highest recorded production/ha in the
world.(72)
Netherlands and Japan produce and export corms.(28) de Juan et al.(116) recorded corm
yield @ 28.4-36.3 ton/ha in Spain.
In Vitro Studies
Saffron is slow growing and 3–4 cormlets/corm are formed during each season using con-
ventional techniques. Another limiting factor is loss of corms due to endogenous infec-
tions during storage. Tissue culture method offers a great potential for the large scale
propagation of saffron. Ding et al.(176) presented a preliminary report on tissue culture of
saffron followed by another report on callus induction and regeneration of plantlets in
1981.(177) Huang(178) reported callusing from basal part of leaves which subsequently
showed shoot formation. The optimum temperature for growth and bud differentiation
was found to be 15°C. The type of response in different explants was dependent upon
medium composition and Plant Growth Regulators used. The work done so far on in vitro
studies in saffron is summarized in Table 4. Earlier, Plessner and Ziv(219) reviewed in vitro
propagation and secondary metabolite production in saffron.
Yang et al.(203) classified 4 types of calluses from various explants, i.e., a) opaque
yellow, compact, granular and embryogenic with potential to form both roots and shoots;
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64
Table 4
In vitro studies in saffron
Explant(s) used *Medium and other additives **PGR (μM) Response References
Corm MS Kn - 2.30
2,4-D - 4.50 Buds Cormlets (176)
Corm MS NAA - 5.40
IAA - 5.70 Plantlets (177)
Ovary (before and
after anthesis) MS 2,4-D - 4.50,
GA3 - 2.88,
BA - 4.44
Parthenocarpic fruits (179)
MS ABA - 3.80 Inhibitory effect
Stigma Stigma like structure Crocin and
Picrocrocin present safranal absent (180)
Corm B5 mineral and MS organic
**sucrose 20 g/l 2,4-D - 9.04 Minicorms (181)
Basal part of leaf N6 2, 4-D - 9.04
BA - 2.22 Callus (178)
Callus MS NAA -1.10
BA - 2.22 Buds
Buds MS (Half strength) IAA - 5.70 Shoots
Corm MS inorganic (half strength)
vitamins (full strength)
coconut milk (2%)
2,4-D - 2.26, 4.52
BA - 2.22 Shoot differentiation via callusing (182)
Shoots NAA - 10.80 Roots formed
Stigma and style before
flowering LS BA – 1.0, 10.0, 30.0
NAA – 10.0, 50.0 Stigma like structures formed
crocin and picrocrocin present (183)
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65
Young intact stigma and
ovaries LS N6 IAA - 0.60, 5.71, 57.14
IBA - 49.21, 98.40
NAA - 0.50, 5.37, 53.70
BA - 0.40, 4.40, 22.22
Kn - 0.46, 4.60, 23.23
Direct or indirect stigma like
structures from meristematic
tissue Stigma growth and
crocin biosynthesis
(184)
Corm and Bud section MS Ascorbic acid 0.1 g/l IAA - 11.40
Kn - 9.30 Plantlet and corm formation (185)
Bulbs MS 2, 4-D - 2.26
Zeatin - 1.40 Callusing (186)
Callus Liquid MS 2, 4-D - 4.52 Spherical nodule
Nodules MS NAA - 5.50
BA - 4.40 Plantlets
Corms, bud, petals,
peduncle and stigma MS Various PGRs Callusing, shoot and root formation (187)
Half ovaries W Coconut milk-2% NAA - 21.48
Zeatin- 18.20 Stigma like structures (188)
Young pigmented and
non-pigmented stigma Glutamine - 200 mg/l NAA - 2.68
Zeatin - 4.60 Callusing
Petals NAA - 42.96
Zeatin-18.20, 36.50 Intensely pigmented stigma like struc-
tures via callusing
Anthers NAA - 21.48 or 42.96
Zeatin- 36.5 Stigma like structures but not with
intense pigmentation
Ovary Zeatin >18.25 Parthenocarpic fruit
(Continued)
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66
Table 4
(Continued)
Explant(s) used *Medium and other additives **PGR (μM) Response References
Isolated apical buds and
small corms MS with modified vitamins.
Casein hydrolysate
-500 mg/l Adenine
sulfate-160 mg/l
2,4-D - 4.52
Kn - 27.89
Zeatin - 13.70
Bud sprouting and corm development
Ethephon pretreatment induced
single dormant corm; inhibited leaf
development Microsurgery of
apical buds followed by ethylene
or ethephon pretreatment increased
sprouting and corm production
(189)
Stigma MS NAA - 53.70
BA - 4.40 Stigma like structures Crocin and
Picrocrocin present (190)
Floral buds MS 2,4-D - 9.04
Kn - 2.23 Red globular callus and red filamen-
tous structures, Crocin, crocetin,
picrocrocin and safranal present
Picrocrocin content higher, safranal
content comparable but crocin con-
tent was lower than natural stigmas
(191)
Ovary without stigma MS NAA - 54.00
BA - 44.00 Stigma like structures and white tubular
abnormal structures formed, Crocin
and picrocrocin present in low
concentrations than natural stigma
(192)
Intact Ovary MS NAA - 27.00
BA - 44.00 Stigma like structures
Anther MS NAA - 54.00
BA -4.40 Stigma like structures
Bud meristem MS Ascorbic acid 0.1 g/l NAA - 21.40
Zeatin - 18.20 Callus (193)
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67
Callus MS ABA - 3.80 Shoots
Stalk and young perianth MS NAA - 50.00
BA - 30.00 Style-stigma like structures (194)
Corolla tube, ovary MS Alanin – 0.1–10 g/l
50–120 g/l sucrose NAA - 0.1 – 10.0
BA or Kn - 2.15 Stigma like structures (195)
Corm MS 2, 4-D - 9.0
Kn - 2.30 Callus (196)
Sprouted corms MS 2,4-D - 9.00
Kn - 9.30 Callus (197)
Bulblets LS BAP-20.00
NAA-20.00 Callus (198)
Nodular callus BAP-20.00
NAA-20.00 Shoot bud differentiation
Shoot buds BAP-5.00
NAA-5.00 Plantlet formation
Regenerated shoot MS BAP-5.00
NAA-5.00 Globular corms with well developed
roots
Floral parts MS N6 IAA - 11.40
Kn - 9.30 Callus (199)
Lateral buds MS macro N6 micro and
vitamins Sucrose 40 g/l NAA- 0.05
BA - 10.30
Zeatin - 6.90
GA3 - 0.10
Bud growth (200)
Lateral buds MS (Half strength nitrogen) BA - 6.60 Shoot multiplication
Shoots MS (Half strength nitrogen) No PGRs Corms and shoots
Shoot meristem LS BA - 20.00
NAA- 20.00 Somatic embryogenesis (201)
(Continued)
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Table 4
(Continued)
Explant(s) used *Medium and other additives **PGR (μM) Response References
Somatic embryo MS Liquid (Half strength) No PGRs Mature embryos
Mature embryo MS (Half strength) GA3 - 57.40 Somatic embryo germination
Germinated somatic
embryos MS (Half strength)
Activated charcoal 20 g/l BA - 5.00
NAA - 5.00 Plantlets with well developed root
system and corm formation
Apical and lateral buds MS Glucose - 30 g/l IAA - 2.80 to17.12
NAA - 2.68 to16.10
Zeatin - 4.60 to 13.70
Corm production (202)
Young leaves buds Callusing (203)
Ovary MS NAA - 53.70
BA - 22.20 Callus (204)
Callus MS NAA - 5.37
BA - 4.44 Stigma like structures, crocin present
Ovary MS Sucrose-45 g/l
glutamine-400 mg/l
ABA - 100 mg/l
NAA - 26.90
BA - 4.44 Adventitious shoot regeneration (205)
Leaf base MS 2,4-D - 4.52
Kn - 4.65 Callusing (206)
Callus MS IBA - 9.84
BA – 44.4 Shoots
Shoots Liquid MS IBA - 49.2
BA - 8.88 In vitro cormlet production
Cormlets MS IBA - 49.2
BA - 8.88 Cormlets, Rooting
Cormlets from field
grown plants MS IBA - 9.84
BA - 44.40 Multiple shoot formation
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69
Immature embryo B5 Alalnine - 11.2 mM
Casein hydrolysate
- 500 mg/l Activated
charcoal - 1 g/l
NAA - 5.40
BA - 44.4 Stigma like stuructures Crocin, Crocetin
glucosyl esters, picrocrocin, and
safranal similar to that of natural
stigma
(207)
Apical buds and corm 2,4-D - 0.45
BA - 8.88 Development and proliferation
of cormogenic nodules (208)
Cormogenic nodule Paclobutrazol
Imizalil Adventitious shoots
Adventitious shoots Without PGR Rooting of adventitious shoot
and microcorm formation
Corm MS 2,4-D - 2.26
Kn - 41.82 Contractile roots (209)
Shoot meristem LS NAA - 21.48
BA - 17.76
2,4-D - 4.52
Kn - 18.58
Embryogenic callus with globular
somatic embryos (210)
Globular somatic
embryos MS (Half strength) ABA - 3.80 Mature Somatic embryos
Mature somatic embryo MS (Half strength) GA3 - 71.80 Germinated somatic embryos
Germinated somatic
embryo MS (Half strength) NAA - 5.37
BA - 4.44 Complete plantlets
Apical meristem of
young corms LS NAA - 10.74
BAP - 8.88 Non-embryogenic callus 211
2,4-D - 4.52
BAP- 4.65 Embryogenic callus
Protoplast derived from
embryogenic callus MS broth 0.3 M manitol 2,4-D-4.52
Kn- 0.93 Callusing 212
(Continued)
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70
Table 4
(Continued)
Explant(s) used *Medium and other additives **PGR (μM) Response References
Calli MS broth ABA- 3.78 Embryo maturation
Mature embryo MS GA3 - 72.18 Germination of mature embryo
Germinated somatic
embryo MS media NAA - 5.37
2,4-D - 4.52 Plantlet regeneration
Leaf segments MS with 9% sucrose BA - 17.76
NAA - 2.69 Maximum Proliferation of cultures 213
BA - 9.99
2,4-D - 0.45 Embryogenesis
GA3 - 57.74
ABA – 7.57 Embryo germination
BAP - 8.88
NAA - 2.69 Plantlet regeneration
*MS = Murashige and Skoog 214; W = White 215; LS = Linsmaier and Skoog 216; B5 = Gambourg217; N6 = Nitsch and Nitsch218 (Composition of different media
given in Table 5).
**PGR = Plant Growth Regulator. Concentration of sucrose is 30 g/l unless otherwise specified.
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 71
b) dull purple, compact and nodular with high root differentiation but low frequency of
shoot formation; c) white friable callus with low frequency of root and shoot formation;
and d) opaque white friable lumps which proliferate easily but have no morphogenic
potential. Among all the explants used, corms and leaves formed first type of callus quite
frequently, implying that these are most suitable explants for rapid selection of embryo-
genic calluses. Milyaeva et al.(202) emphasized the fact that the seasonal developmental
cycles typical for saffron in a natural environment remained unchanged during in vitro
culture and period during April to May was the most favourable for corm regeneration.
Contractile roots from corms formed on Murashige and Skoog (214) medium supplemented
with 2,4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid (2.26 μM) and Kinetin (41.80 μM) contracted at the
base. Phenolic compounds, especially p-coumaric acid, had positive effect on their forma-
tion, growth, and contraction.(209)
Studies on morphogenic potential of floral explants revealed that stigma-like struc-
tures have been induced from almost all floral organs including half ovaries,(180,184,207)
stigmas,(183,190) petals,(195,220) anthers,(190) and stamens.(221) However, both induction fre-
quency of stigma like structures and concentration of secondary metabolites therein were
rather low. Stigma-like structures developed on anthers, petals, stigmas and half ovaries.
However, best results were achieved on half ovaries cultured on MS medium supple-
mented with 21.48 μM α-naphthalene acetic acid and 18.20 μM zeatin.(188)
Somatic embryogenesis was observed on Linsmaier and Skoog medium supple-
mented with benzyl adenine (BA) and NAA.(201) Favourable effect of jasmonic acid
(0.5 mg/l) was evident for somatic embryogenesis.(222) While studying polyamine metabo-
lism during somatic embryogenesis, Blazquez et al.(222) estimated that somatic embryos at
all stages of development contained more conjugated than free polyamines.
There is only one report on protoplast isolation and culture. Protoplasts were immobi-
lized in calcium alginate beads and these regenerated shoots and roots from the callus in
NAA and BA supplemented MS medium.(223)
Secondary Metabolite Production
The main components in saffron responsible for its colour, taste and flavour are crocin,
picrocrocin and safranal, respectively. The quantity and quality of these compounds
depended upon the type of tissue or the organs that differentiate in cultures. Stigma-like
structures induced in vitro from floral organs of C. sativus are known to be a rich source of
these components.(180,192,207) A wide range of basal media supplemented with different
combinations of plant growth regulators helped in differentiation of various explants to
stigma like structures.(195,207,224)
The possibility of producing saffron pigments in stigma-like structures induced from
ovary is on record,(180,185) where the amount of crocin and picrocrocin were lower by 8
and 6 times, respectively, than in natural stigmas.(191) Stigmas produced from ovaries
developed constituents similar to that of saffron grown in vivo.(190) On the other hand,
Visvanath et al.(191) observed that crocin and corcetin contents were higher in red filamentous
structures obtained from cultivated floral buds, while the safranal content was comparable to
natural stigmas. Sarma et al.(192) observed that stigma like structures produced from ovary
explants on MS medium supplemented with NAA (5.4 μM) and BA (44.4 μM) contained
lower crocin and picrocrocin contents (i.e., 6 and 11 times, respectively), than in natural
stigmas. Sensory analysis was also performed, which included identification, threshold and
profile tests. The sensory data indicated that the saffron pigments in tissue cultures were one
tenth that of natural stigmas and were low in floral, spicy and fatty characteristics.
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72 Kumar et al.
Saffron corms have been demonstrated to contain certain proteoglycans that inhibit
growth of human tumour cells. Escribano et al.(225) have shown that callus cultures of saffron
corm also synthesize such glycoconjugate. This compound is cytotoxic against human cervical
epithelioid carcinoma cells and consists of approximately 90% carbohydrate and 10% protein.
Besides plant growth regulators, precursor feeding such as sodium acetate, and
polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) has proven to be an effective way to increase secondary
metabolite production. Zeng et al.(226) found that addition of sodium acetate (SA) in the
medium increased crocin production by more than two fold in stigma like structures
formed from petal explants. Based upon their observation that synthesis of crocin was
considerably lower in red callus as compared to stigma-like structures, they concluded that
Table 5
Composition of different nutrition media
Components
Concentration (mg/l)
Murashige
and
Skoog(214) White (215)
Linsmaier
and
Skoog(216)
Nitsch
and
Nitsch(218)
Gamborg
and
Eveleigh(217)
NH4NO31650.0 — 1650.0 720.0
KNO31900.0 80.0 1900.0 950.0 2500.0
Ca(NO3)2.4H2O 300.0 —
CaCl2.2H2O 440.0 440.0 219.9 150.0
MgSO4.7H2O 370.0 750.0 370.0 250.0
KCl 65.0 —
NaH2PO4.H2O 19.0 — 150.0
(NH4)2SO4 — — 134.0
Na2SO4 200.0 —
KH2PO4170.0 — 170.0 68.0
H3BO36.2 1.5 6.2 10.0 3.0
MnSO4.4H2O 22.3 5.0 22.3 25.0 13.2
ZnSO4.7H2O 8.6 3.0 8.6 10.0 2.0
KI 0.83 0.75 0.83 — 0.75
Na2MoO4.2H2O 0.25 1.25 0.25 0.25 0.25
CuSO4.5H2O 0.025 0.01 0.025 0.025 0.025
CoCl2.6H2O 0.025 0.025 — 0.025
FeSO4.7H2O 27.8 27.8 27.85
Fe2(SO4)3—2.5
Na2EDTA.2H2O 37.3 37.3 37.25
Fe chelates (DTPA) 28.0
Meso-inositol 100.0 — 100 100 99.1
Pyridoxine-HCl 0.5 0.1 — 0.5 1.028
Thiamine-HCl 0.1 0.1 0.4 0.5 10.118
Nicotinic acid 0.5 0.5 5.0 0.985
Biotin 0.05 —
Folic acid 0.5
Glycine 2.0 3.0 — 2.0
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 73
synthesis and accumulation of these secondary metabolites are related to the differentiating
level of certain tissue and organs.
Post Harvest Technology
Dehydration is a post-harvest treatment necessary to convert stigmas into saffron spice.
During the dehydration process, the stigmas lose 80% of their weight. The colour, flavour,
and overall good quality depend on the method by which the stigmas are dried, since
hydrolysis of crocin and allied pigments occurs during processing. The chemical changes
in the stigmas during drying influence the flavour and strength of the resulting spice. The
best quality saffron has a pleasant, dominant floral, sweet spicy note and little harsh acrid
note.(66) Lower moisture content, at least below the 12% value established by the
ISO3632,(227) maintains the quality of the product for a longer time.(228) The moisture in
the saffron over a period of time under storage affects colour quality.
Drying process differs from country to country. There are two ways to dehydrate
saffron in terms of temperature. One process is carried out at room temperature directly
under sunlight or in ventilated conditions, as done in India, Morocco and Iran. In India, the
stigmas are solar dried for 3 to 5 days until their moisture content is reduced to 8–10%.(21,50)
This constitutes the first grade saffron (sahi saffron). The remaining flower parts dried in
the sun for 3 to 5 days are lightly beaten with sticks and the material is passed through
coarse sieves and the material that passes is put into water. Parts that float are discarded
and those that sink to the bottom are collected and dried further. This constitutes the sec-
ond grade (mogra saffron). The discarded parts of the flower treated similarly as above
constitute the third grade (lachha saffron).(73) In Morocco, the stigmas are spread on a
cloth in a very thin layer and dried under the sun for several hours or in the shade for 7–10
days.(82) The second drying process, practiced in Spain, Greece and Italy, is carried out at
higher temperature by using hot air or any other heating source.
Sampathu et al.(49) confirmed that the traditional method of sun drying in India takes
about 27–53 h, which might be responsible for enzymatic degradation of crocin. Thus, it
may be logical that a shorter drying period and a controlled temperature may give the
desired quality saffron. Raina et al.(68) compared different drying methods viz., shade dry-
ing, sun drying, solar drying, electric oven drying, cross flow drying, vacuum oven drying
and dehumidified drying and observed significant variation in pigment concentration
(10.0–17.0%) with different post-harvest technologies. Their studies indicated that a
method employing 40 ± 5°C (solar drier/oven drier) is the best for maintaining high qual-
ity saffron and results in large time saving over traditional sun drying. Bolandi et al.(229)
used three drying methods viz., traditional (25°C), modified Spanish (55°C) and micro-
wave oven (300 watt) and reported that saffron dried in a microwave oven had the highest
coloring strength, aroma and bitterness value.
Carmona et al.(230) evaluated 3 different dehydration treatments (dehydration at room
temperature; dehydration with hot air at different temperatures (70, 90, and 110°C); and
dehydration following traditional processing with 3 heating sources (vineshoot charcoal,
gas cooker and electric coil) in Spain) and reported that highest coloring strength was
obtained when saffron was submitted to higher temperature and lower times. Gregory
et al.(231) observed that a brief (20 min) initial period at a relatively high temperature
(between 80–92°C) followed by continued drying at a lower temperature (43°C) produced
saffron with a safranal content up to 25 times that of saffron dried only at lower tempera-
ture. This indicated that high temperature treatment allowed greater retention of crocin
pigments than in saffron dried at intermediate temperatures (46–58°C).
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74 Kumar et al.
Quality
After fully drying, the saffron must be stored immediately, preferably in tightly covered or
sealed containers and protected from light to avoid bleaching. The final product is a com-
pressed, highly organic, matted mass of narrow, threadlike dark orange to reddish brown
strands about 1 inch long (Fig. 9). True saffron has a pleasantly spicy, pungent, bitter taste, and
a tenacious odor.(232) Saffron is available both in filaments and powder form though the long
deep red filaments are usually preferable to the powder as the latter can be easily adulterated.
The quality of saffron depends on its color (crocin concentration), taste (picrocrocin)
and odour (safranal). The best quality saffron has a high crocin absorbance (>190) at 440 nm,
picrocrocin absorbance (25–30) at 330 nm and safranal absorbance (100) at 257 nm wave-
length(227) (Table 6). Saffron is glossy and greasy to touch when freshly dried, turning dull
and brittle with age. It gets easily bleached if not stored in the dark and also stores better
under conditions of low temperature and low relative humidity. The high price of this
spice gives rise to frequent adulterations. Water is said to be very often added in order to
increase its weight. Oil or glycerin is also added for the same purpose or to improve the
appearance. Sometimes the flowers of other plants, viz., Carthamus tinctorius, Calendula
officinalis and arnica are fraudulently mixed with the genuine stigmas.(233)
Figure 9. Dry saffron.
Table 6
Saffron grading standards (222)
ISO Grade
Category Crocin specific
absorbance (at 440nm) Picrocrocin specific
absorbance (at 330nm) Safranal specific
absorbance (at 257nm)
I >190 25–30 100
II 150–190
III 110–150
IV 80–110 —
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State of Art of Saffron Agronomy 75
Storage of Corms
After lifting the corm, storage under appropriate conditions is quite important to avoid sprout-
ing. Koltsova(234) reported that corm lifted in May and stored in boxes covered with soil at
19–23°C and 65–75% relative humidity for 4 months, sprouted and flowered much earlier,
than those stored at 23–27°C and those left in the ground. Benschop(84) quoted that crocus
corms can be stored at 25°C and 80% humidity for up to 8 months, thus delaying flowering,
whereas, Munoz-Gomez et al.(235) stated that storage of the corms at 30°C for 45 days
increased the number of flowers as compared to corms forced to sprout directly at 17/10°C
after leaf withering. However, the number of flowers formed was very low (< 0.3 flowers/
corm). Molina et al.(236) reported that flower primordial aborted when incubation of corms at
25°C was extended for more than 5 months. They further stated that corms can be stored at
25°C for 90–115 days. Molina et al.(237) observed that corms lifted after leaf withering and
stored at 2°C in 1% oxygen for 70 days could be forced to flower from early December until
the end of January with the same yield of spice saffron as corms stored under normal temper-
atures in Spain. Storage of corms at 2°C after flower initiation resulted in abortion of these
flower already initiated. Storage at freezing temperature (0 or –1°C) damaged the corms.
Conclusions
Saffron is obtained from flowers, and total yield is dependent on corm size. Development of
daughter corms of optimum size within minimum time, increasing the number and weight of
stigmas and producing a long flowering shoot either by agronomic practices or by plant
growth regulators are important parameters for further research. These will give not only
higher yields of saffron, but the flowers will also be harvested more easily. Research on
micronutrient such as boron, manganese, zinc and other trace elements in combination to
macro nutrients needs to be investigated. Besides this, production technology for organic
saffron is also essential. Tissue culture technique is ideal for mass production of pathogen
free corms. Moreover, there is need to standardize protocols for development of stigma like
structures in vitro as the formation of important constituents of saffron spice seem to be
tissue specific. Standardized tissue culture protocols may be employed for genetic transfor-
mation studies for genetic improvement and plants having desirable traits.
Acknowledgments
The authors are thankful to Dr. R.D. Singh, Scientist (Agronomy), IHBT, Palampur for his construc-
tive suggestions in the preparation of manuscript. The financial grant from Spices Board, Govt. of
India is gratefully acknowledged.
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Supplementary resource (1)

... Saffron (Crocus sativus L.; Iridaceae) is an infertile autumn-flowering perennial plant [1] known for its production of a highly priced spice that is used widely in coloring, flavoring, and therapeutics [2]. The limited farmland available in cold regions to produce saffron in fields and the labor-intensive saffron harvesting and handling processes contribute to the high cost of saffron crop production, making this spice the most expensive in the world [3][4][5][6][7][8][9]. Additionally, the low yield of saffron has been attributed to conventional agronomic practices, low corm progeny, and the associated microbial infections [10]. ...
... In nature, saffron grows well in friable, loose, low-density, well-irrigated, and welldrained clay calcareous soils with electrical conductivity (EC) levels of <2 dS m −1 [7,20,21]. Saffron is considered sensitive to soil salinity as its estimated soluble salt threshold varies between 0.61 and 0.86 depending on irrigation water levels and planting methods [22]. Variation and imbalance in nutrient composition and concentrations as well as in pH and EC affect saffron responses markedly in soilless cultures compared with in-soil-based cultures because of the buffering capacity of soils [23]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Indoor saffron farming systems under controlled conditions are required to meet the high demand for this valuable crop. The aim of the present study was to determine the flowering, growth, and yield responses of saffron grown using nutrient solutions with different electrical conductivity (EC) levels (0.7, 1.4, and 2.1 dS m−1). Sprouted saffron corms were cultured for 24 weeks under a volcanic rock-based aerated continuous immersion system. Vegetative growth and leaf gas exchange, but not flowering, were affected significantly by EC levels. The optimal EC in a balanced nutrient solution was 0.7 dS m−1, at which level the highest plant height, leaf area, biomass, photosynthetic rate, number of daughter corms, and percentage of corms ≥ 25 mm were recorded. An EC level of 2.1 dS m−1 decreased the photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance, and transpiration rate of saffron but increased biochemical stress marker levels and elevated various antioxidant defense enzyme levels significantly in saffron leaves, possibly reflecting a defense response to the cellular damage provoked by the higher EC level. In terms of nutrient solution EC, 0.7 dS m−1 was optimal in saffron, whereas 2.1 dS m−1 caused oxidative stress that led to reduced growth and daughter corm production.
... A mother saffron corm produces typically one to four cormlets per season through field cultivation (Ali et al., 2018;Cavusoglu and Erkel, 2005). Difficulties in its cultivation in limited farmland located at high altitudes under cold climate conditions and laborious nature of harvesting and handling (Douglas et al., 2014;Khilare et al., 2019;Kumar et al., 2008) have made saffron the most expensive spice in the world (Aytekin and Acikgoz, 2008;Winterhalter and Straubinger, 2000). The low rate of cormlet multiplication and associated fungal infections hinder saffron pr oductivity (Devi et al., 2011). ...
Article
Full-text available
ADDITIONAL INDEX WORDS. controlled environment, Crocus sativus, indoor culture, soilless culture SUMMARY. Hydroponics is a promising method for cultivation of saffron (Crocus sativus). In this study, saffron corms were sprouted using a gradual decrease in air temperature, and they were cultivated hydroponically in either perlite or volcanic rock for 24 weeks. A nutrient solution was supplied using either an ebb-and-flow system or continuous immersion. First blooming was observed 29 days after transplantation. Among flowering traits, only the stigma length was significantly influenced by the type of hydroponic system. Saffron plants displayed better growth parameters, a higher photosynthetic rate and stomatal conductance (g S), as well as daughter corm (cormlet) production under the continuous immersion system, in comparison with the ebb-and-flow system. Small corms (22-25 mm diameter) did not bloom, and the emergence of flowers increased with corm size. Plant growth and photosynthetic parameters, as well as cormlet production, significantly increased with corm size. We obtained the highest stigma yield [number of flowers (1.9), stigma length (39.4 mm), stigma fresh (42.8 mg), and dry weight (5.3 mg)] and cormlet yield [number of cormlets (5.7), average corm diameter (25 mm), and fresh weight (6.4 g)] using mother corms sized $32 mm diameter grown hydroponically in the volcanic rock-based continuous immersion system.
... The crop is triploid with chromosome number (2n = 3x = 24), basic number X = 8, and never bears seeds. This crop requires human intervention and is propagated by digging up, breaking apart, and replanting daughter corms [1,2]. Corms can survive for one season by vegetatively dividing into up to ten cormlets, each of which can grow into a new plant in the following season. ...
Article
Since saffron is a triploid crop, it does not generate seed when selfed or crossed and is passed down through the generations by daughter corms produced from the mother corms. As a result, agro-technology development is the only viable alternative for bringing this crop to its full potential. Saffron does not have any specific habitat preferences, as evidenced by discovering numerous previously unknown saffron farmed areas during the current study. The plant grows as a mixed crop under apple (Malus domestica Borkh), almond (Prunus amygdalus Batsch.), populus (Populus alba L.), and walnut (Juglans regia L.) trees, as well as in plains, undulated soils, hills, and rice fields. It can be found growing between 1585 and 2050 m above sea level. Different agro-techniques were standardized, among which compost soil (compost 250 gms per pot with 2 kgs of soil; 500 gms per tray with 4 kgs of soil; 10 kgs per bed) was found to be best for early flower production. Soil and farmyard manure (1:3), UDP 0.25 gms/pot (N-115.511+ K130.952+P-58.496 mg), soil DAP 650 mg/2 kg of soil (@P = 152.0899 mg), soil MOP 350 mg/2 kg (@ K = 183.37 mg) of soil was preeminent of procured in vitro raised cormlets in terms of their sprouting and survival of shoots. Corm density was also checked in the offseason of the crop, with growth activity of only saffron corms. Significant negative correlation was recorded with r = 0.82; n = 100; P ≤ 0.001. But the reverse trend was observed in the crop's growing season when most de-weeding and field preparations are accomplished. The study will benefit people in near future as it emphasized the imperative proofs and picture of saffron cultivation in Kashmir valley, reflects the realities of saffron cultivation and trounces the earlier myths.
... Crocus sativus L., from the family of Iridaceae, is commonly known as saffron, which is the name of a spice derived from the C. sativus stigmas dried. Saffron is used for medicinal purposes in Chinese, Ayurvedic, Persian, and Unani traditional medicines [131]. The therapeutic properties of saffron used for healing purposes could be found in Materia Medica, written by a Greek physician (Pedanius Dioscorides) in the first century A.D. [132]. ...
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... The corm has 1 or 3 apical buds and about (depending on the dimension) 4-5 or more lateral buds from which 1-3 medium-big daughter corms from apical buds and several small corms from lateral buds are produced depending on the size of the mother corm. The mother corm has a significant effect on the production and vegetative development of daughter corms (Cardone et al., 2020;Gresta, Lombardo, Siracusa, & Ruberto, 2008;Kumar et al., 2009). ...
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