Colchicum autumnale

The autumn crocus is a welcome sight in late summer, when most other bulbs and herbaceous flowers have faded away.

Family: Colchicaceae
Botanical Name: Colchicum
Common Names: Autumn crocus, meadow saffron, naked ladies.

Foliage: Coarse, strap-like, leaves. The green foliage emerges in spring, dying back down in June/July before the flowers appear.

Flowers: Large, crocus-like, goblet shaped blooms. Often fragrant. The flowers are mainly lilac-purple in colour but pure white and pink shades are available.

Flowering Period: Late summer (September).

Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.

Conditions: Full sun. Plant in a south, east or west facing aspect, in a sheltered location.

Habit: Upright, clump forming.

Type: Bulbous/cormous perennial.

Origin: West Asia, Europe, Mediterranean coast and Africa.

Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.

Toxicity: All parts are highly toxic if ingested.

Planting and Growing Colchicum

Plant the large bulbs from July to August, when dormant. Thrives best in a deep fertile, well-drained, humus-rich soil.

Colchicum can be a difficult plant to companion as the dense leaves quickly reach 16in (40cm) in spring and can easily smother other plants. The flowers of C. autumnale are quite fragile so are best grown in a sheltered, protected area, or in rough grass that can be left uncut in spring and autumn. C. speciosum is particularly good for naturalising under the canopy of a tree or a deciduous shrub.

Taking Care of Colchicum

Only remove the dead foliage once it has died down naturally.

Pests and Diseases

Slugs may attack the leaves and corms.

Propagating Colchicum

Increase by dividing established clumps in August when dormant.

Alternatively sow seed in August. Although the seedlings may take four to five years to flower.

Popular Varieties of Colchicum

Modern Dutch hybrids have an improved colour range and depth, so seek these out if you can - such as 'The Giant' (rosy-lilac flowers), 'Lilac Wonder' (lilac-rose flowers) and 'William Dykes' (lilac-pink flowers).

Colchicum autumnale has lilac-pink goblet-shaped flowers. A rather delicate species that is best grown in grass. Cultivar 'Album' is an unusual white flowering form with beautiful large pure white flowers. Available at Gardening Express.

Colchicum byzantinum is a hybrid form (of unknown origin) that produces rose-purple flowers in September.

Colchicum speciosum produces flowers in various shades of mauve and lilac, in September. Height 9-12in (20-30cm). A range of large flowered hybrids are available in shades of purple, pink and white. Cultivar 'Water-lily' is a popular pink-mauve double form. Available at Gardening Express.