The Fall Colchicum

Oct 15, 2021Uncategorized

Martha Stewart talks about the beauty of the fall perennial Colchicum.

Wherever you live, I hope you’re able to enjoy the beautiful blooms of those fall perennials called Colchicum.

I love Colchicum and have grown them in my gardens for many years. Colchicum produces such cheerful colors when most other plants have faded and are going dormant. Many of mine are from Brent and Becky’s in Gloucester, Virginia. I am so happy these plants are flourishing and have multiplied in numbers.

Here are some photos of my colchicum and some of the other blooms and interesting plants growing in the garden right now, enjoy.

Guests that come around this time of year often ask, “what are those flowers that look like crocus?” The common name for Colchicum is autumn crocus, but they are not true autumn crocus because there are many species of true crocus which are autumn blooming. Also, Colchicum flowers have six stamens while crocuses have only three.

Colchicum is a member of the botanical family Colchicaceae and is native to West Asia, Europe, parts of the Mediterranean coast, down the East African coast to South Africa and the Western Cape.

Colchicum corms are pretty large, with waxy, dark-brown, leathery skin. When selecting Colchicum corms, look for ones that are firm, dense, and heavy. We planted a number of colchicum corms several years ago at the edge of my Stewartia Garden. I also have them growing along my front carriage road and a few in my White Garden.

The scientific name comes from Colchis, a region on the coast of the Black Sea. The name Colchicum alludes to the poisonous qualities of the species. The plant contains an alkaloid known as colchicine, which is found in all parts, but mostly in the seeds. Colchicum typically blooms from September to November. This is among the largest of colchicum varieties, ‘Giant,’ with its bright lilac colored flowers and white centers.

Once open, Colchicums produce goblet-like blooms in shades of pink, violet, or white. They are large striking flower heads, with white at the base leading to pale pink at the apex.

Some of the varieties we’ve planted at the farm include ‘Lilac Wonder’, ‘Waterlily’, ‘Dick Trotter’, Colchicum byzantinum, and Colchicum bornmuelleri. This one is “Waterlily” – a double petaled cultivar in soft pink.

Here’s a closer look at ‘Waterlily’. ‘Waterlily’ is a hybrid resulting from a cross of Colchicum autumnale ‘Alboplenum’ and Colchicum speciosum ‘Album’. Each flower resembles the form of a water lily, hence the cultivar name.

When the weather is mild, colchicum’s flowers begin to unfurl. Most Colchicum plants produce their flowers without any foliage. This is why these flowers were first known by the common name “naked boys.” In the Victorian era, they were also called “naked ladies.”

Colchicums are quite delicate but spread nicely in the autumn garden. Colchicum is a good pollen source for bees in fall when little else is available for them. And, because Colchicums are toxic, they provide a natural way to repel animals such as deer, mice, squirrels, and moles. This variety has reddish violet flowers and is one of the darkest colors of this group.

The white variety is growing in my White Garden just outside my Winter House. It’s called ‘Album’ and has large, bright, vase-shaped blooms.

Another variety is called Colchicum byzantinum. It is an early fall-blooming Colchicum which bears up to 20 small, funnel-shaped, soft lilac flowers that are four to six inches long.

Colchicum is best grown in a sheltered spot that enjoys afternoon sun because this encourages a good succession of wide-open flowers.

Colchicum corms should be planted six to nine inches apart, but don’t worry – look how plentiful they grow once established.

Colchicum looks great clustered together. Planting in groups will create many colorful patches.

Over the years, they’ve multiplied in numbers here at the farm. These line the carriage road near my front gate. I love how they dot the garden with pops of bright pink. And If we’re lucky, some of these blooms will last into November.


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