Habit and leaf form. Herbs; evergreen, or deciduous. Perennial (annual leaves and flowers). Leaves basal and cauline. Plants with a basal concentration of leaves, or with neither basal nor terminal concentrations of leaves; rhizomatous (globose to depressed, tunic of netted fibres). Helophytic to xerophytic. Leaves alternate; distichous; ‘herbaceous’, or leathery; sessile; sheathing. Leaf sheaths with free margins. Leaves foetid, or without marked odour; edgewise to the stem, or with ‘normal’ orientation; simple; epulvinate. Leaf blades entire; flat; linear, or lanceolate; linear (to ensiform); parallel-veined (prominent midvein); without cross-venules; open or closed sheath. Leaves eligulate; without stipules. Leaf blade margins entire. Leaves with a persistent basal meristem, and basipetal development. Leaf anatomy. Hairs absent. Extra-floral nectaries absent. Stem anatomy. Secondary thickening absent.
Reproductive type, pollination. Fertile flowers hermaphrodite. Unisexual flowers absent. Plants hermaphrodite. Floral nectaries present, or absent. Nectar secretion from the perianth (from nectaries at the tepal bases). Entomophilous, or ornithophilous, or anemophilous.
Inflorescence and flower features. Flowers aggregated in ‘inflorescences’; in spikes. The terminal inflorescence unit cymose, or racemose. Inflorescences terminal; scape erect, terete, branched, partly sheathed by leaves; inflorescence 4–20 flowered, distichous, becoming open, axis strongly flexuose; spatheate (2 per flower, short). Flowers sessile; bracteate (2 enclose each flower at the base, persistent, small, spathe-like, scarious, brown; outer bract ovate, acute; inner bract shorter, bifid). Bracts persistent. Flowers ebracteolate; small to large; somewhat irregular (almost regular), or very irregular; when irregular, zygomorphic; 3 merous; cyclic; tetracyclic. Perigone tube present. Perianth of ‘tepals’; 6; 2 -whorled; isomerous; petaloid; without spots, or spotted; similar in the two whorls, or different in the two whorls; green (to orange). Androecial members definite in number. Androecium 3. Androecial members adnate; all equal; free of one another; 1 -whorled (representing the outer whorl). Androecium exclusively of fertile stamens. Stamens 3; all more or less similar in shape; reduced in number relative to the adjacent perianth to isomerous with the perianth; on the perianth tube opposite the outer segments; alterniperianthial (opposite the outer perianth lobes). Anthers basifixed; versatile; dehiscing via longitudinal slits; extrorse. Gynoecium 3 carpelled. The pistil 3 celled. Gynoecium partly petaloid, or non-petaloid; syncarpous; synstylovarious; inferior. Ovary plurilocular; 3 locular. The ‘odd’ carpel anterior. Gynoecium stylate. Styles 1; apical. Stigmas 3. Placentation axile. Ovules (1–)2–50 per locule; arillate, or non-arillate; anatropous.
Fruit and seed features. Fruit non-fleshy; dehiscent; a capsule. Capsules loculicidal (from the apex). Fruit 3 celled; few. Seeds endospermic. Endosperm oily. Cotyledons 1 (coleoptile-like). Embryo straight (small). Testa without phytomelan.
Etymology. From the Greek for "saffron" and "smell", as the dried flowers smell of saffron when moistened.
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