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Colchicum - Autumn Crocus - Meadow Saffron Crocus.

Colchicum - Autumn Crocus

Colchicum 'Beaconsfield' is a hardy variety, which responds well to naturalising under shrubs.

A group of Autumn flowering plants, normally known as bulbs but they are actually corms, the Autumn crocus - Colchicum autumnale - are good for early autumn colour in the garden. They are also known as Saffron Crocus, or Meadow Saffron and are especially suited to planting under trees or shrubs in the shrub border.

Colchicum autumnalis flowers of the variety - Beaconsfield

Colchicum autumnalis flowers Beaconsfield

The flowering season for Colchicum Autumn Crocus is early autumn / winter. The flowers which are borne on naked plants with no foliage - hence the nick name 'Naked Ladies' - are then followed by large green leaves - not unlike a Cos lettuce!

- All parts of the Colchicum are highly toxic if eaten, and medical advice should be sought immediately. The symptoms are similar to Arsenic Poisoning. However, a herbal treatment is derived from the Autumn Saffron - Cochicine. This has long been prescribed for the treatment of Gout, and is still prescribed thus - even though there are concerns about the toxicity of the plant extracts. Nowadays, there is extensive research being carried out in relation to its effects on either preventing are treating various cancers.

Colchicum and Cochicine - Herbal - Poisonous

Growing and Planting Colchicum or Meadow Saffron Bulbs

The Colchicum bulbs or corms are normally sold in garden centres during late summer, and often have flower buds when bought. This is not a problem, though bulbs with long spindly flowers should be avoided. Plant Colchicums to around twice the depth of the corm, in moist soils that are well drained. Add a little potting compost to the planting hole - mixed with a little sharp sand if the soil is heavy. The Meadow Saffrons will flower almost immediately

There are a few exceptions to the type of soil normally recommended as above, and they are,
Colchicum boissieri; Colchicum cupanii; Colchicum hungaricum - which is best in alpine house conditions; Colchicum kesselringii (Colchicum crociflorum); Colchicum luteum:  The foregoing are best planted in well drained situations, with some sharp grit and compost added to the planting hole.  

Colchicums are not really suitable for naturalising in grass lawns or the like. The subsequent foliage of the Meadow Saffrons is substantial, and is far better off in clear ground such the front of shrub or perennial borders. However, the common name of Meadow Saffron suggests that it would fare well in light meadow-type conditions. Being autumn flowering plants or bulbs - they would flower when the meadow grasses are on the decline, and better still, the foliage will have time to do its work of providing food reserves for the corm before the meadow grasses start active growth in the spring.

It is essential to keep the area of planting moist during the after-flowering period - when the foliage is growing. This will ensure good food reserves in the corms for flowering in the following autumn.

Propagation of Colchicum Autumnale

Cerise red flowers of Colchicum autumnalis Heemstede

Cerise red flowers of

Colchicum autumnalis Heemstede

Seeds of Meadow Saffron Crocus can be harvested as soon as ripe, and sown into containers and over-wintered in a cold greenhouse or coldframe. Alternatively, an unheated propagator with plastic lid - placed in a sheltered position outside - will be suitable. The seedlings willl show though in mid to late spring. Best then left in container until the following spring, when they can be either re-potted and grown outside, or planted in positions for eventuall flowering in a further year or two.

The corms can also be lifted carefully in mid-summer when dormant (not too late) and divided into several offshoots, which can be planted straight into flowering positions, where most offshoots will flower the same year.

Bi colour flower of Colchicum autumnalis speciosum

Bi colour flower of Colchicum

autumnalis speciosum

Colchicum 'Glory of Heemstede' is a rich pink goblet shaped flower which stands up to wet weather quite well. The flowers - which are quite fragrant - are followed by narrow upright foliage.

This variety is happiest in a rich organic soil, but will also grow in most other soils that are not waterlogged.
This clump of the Meadow Saffron was growing in the bare soil at the base of a Cherry tree,

Colchicum Water Lily gets hurt by heavy rainfall

Colchicum Water Lily

gets hurt by heavy rainfall

Colchicum speciosum is a vigorous growing type, with erect leaves following the flowers, which often have white centers. Large goblet shaped flowers.

Heavy rain can cause damage to the blooms, so overhead protection - such as with tree or shrub branches will help to alleviate this.


Colchicum Waterlily is a great double flowered cultivar - seen here as a whole group, showing the reason why they are nicknamed 'Naked Ladies'.

The flowers of this Colchicum often need support to stop them falling on to the ground. Low growing plants are suitable just to give the little bit of support required.
As can be seen, these Saffrons fare best in bare soil - or at least soils that are thinly populated with other plants.

Problems with Colchicum - Autumn Crocus

These autumn-flowering crocus or Meadow Saffrons have very few pests or diseases - other then slugs and possibly grey mould on foliage during any storage period. Bulbs or corms are rarely stored by the amateur gardener, so the mould is not a problem.

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