Colchicum [KOHL-chik-um] is a perennial flowering plant genus with about 160 species growing from bulb-like corms.
This plant belongs to the family of Colchicaceae and is native to Europe, West Asia, Western Cape, and South Africa.
Plants flower from the early fall up to the initial frost spells. Several popular species include:
- Colchicum Speciosum
- Colchicum Autumnale
The common names for Colchicum include:
- Autumn Crocus
- Meadow Saffron
- Naked Ladies
- Purple Crocus
- Saffron Crocus
- Meadow Crocus
Colchicum Plants Care
Size & Growth
This cormous plant grows up to 6” inches tall during the early fall.
It has strap-shaped, erect leaves which are about 12” inches in length, and it sprouts lavender-pink to white flowers.
Flowering and Fragrance
The bloom time for Colchicum Autumnale is from August to September.
The lilac-pink flowers are a thrilling sight during the fall season as if spring arrived early!
These goblet-shaped, six-petal flowers resemble the original crocuses, thus its common name.
The unique thing about this plant (like the Amarylis Belladonna lily) is its flowers appearing before its leaves, inspiring its other common name – naked ladies.
After blooming, the flowers die, and in spring, its leaves grow for about a month before dying.
Light & Temperature
The hybrid Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ prefers to be in the full sun, but also grows well in part shade.
The more sun this plant gets, the less likely it is to flop over once the flowers start appearing.
The USDA hardiness zones of this plant are 4 – 8.
Watering and Feeding
This cormous perennial ideally needs around an inch of water every week.
If the corms don’t get the appropriate amount of water in a week, check the soil to determine if it requires more water.
This plant doesn’t need a lot of water when flowering.
However, regular watering afterward helps the rooting system and allows the corms to store up some nutrients.
If the plant has received sufficient rainwater, then there is no need to water more.
Feed this plant twice annually, during early fall and then early spring.
It is ideal to sprinkle in some fertilizer around the plant during the spring season to encourage the growth of its leaves.
Soil & Transplanting
C. Autumnale thrives in medium moisture, well-drained, and organically rich soils.
It’s essential for this plant to have good soil drainage to avoid corm rotting.
Grooming and Maintenance
This plant is low-maintenance and easy to cultivate. Given the right environment, it will abundantly flower during the fall season.
Ideally, grow these plants together in a cluster. Planting ten or more species close together will result in vibrant patches.
Opt for an area with partial shade or is well-lit for optimal blooms. Let leaves wither away entirely before cutting them off.
How to Propagate Autumn Crocus
Propagation of this plant is done using bulbs.
- Plant the bulbs at equal intervals in early summer.
- Ensure the bulbs are around 4” – 6” inches deep.
- The temperature should be around -4°degrees Fahrenheit (-20° C).
- Plant in well-draining, rich soil under a sunny location.
This plant is easily grown in grass and neutralized.
It doesn’t like dry soil but will tolerate partial shade.
Autumn Crocus Pest or Diseases
Colchicum doesn’t face severe disease or insect problems.
It is rabbit resistant, but snails and slugs might attack the corms and fungal smut may be a concern.
Cut off and destroy any affected plants to avoid damage to other plants.
The flowers attract butterflies and bees.
Is The Plant Toxic or Poisonous?
This plant is considered poisonous to humans and pets.
Its common name, meadow saffron, is rather misleading since it may be mistaken for Crocus Sativus which is the genuine saffron.
It’s highly recommended not to use this plant as a spice as it includes Alkaloid Colchicines, which is highly toxic.
Colchicum poisoning has caused many deaths as it is often mistaken for another plant, Allium Ursinum, a wild herb.
The symptoms of this poisoning are similar to cholera, including failure of the respiratory system and kidneys, vomiting, and pain in the stomach and throat.
Related: Learn about Bulb Layering
Autumn Crocus works perfectly as ground cover as it offers support to surrounding weak plants, and works well growing by woodland edges and among the shrubs.
It looks stunning in woodland beds, meadows, in landscapes where plants are fading in late summer and spring.
Use this plant along walkways and around the patio, but avoid using in prominent areas of borders and beds.