Colchicum

Colchicum Flowers (Autumn Crocus): Types, How to Grow and Care

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Colchicum flowers are fall-blooming, making them a great addition to your landscaping if most of your other flowers are spring or summer blooming. 

Colchicum is grown for their hardiness and simple care needs, in fact, they barely need any care at all. This perennial flower will grow back year after year and is a bulb flower, meaning the plant will sprout from a bulb as opposed to seed.

Colchicum flowers come in a few different color varieties, with shades of purple, pink, and white. These colors are vibrant and add a nice pop of color to the fall atmosphere when most plants are starting to brown and turn darker shades. 

There aren’t many reasons not to plant colchicum in your garden, as they require little to no attention and will bloom beautiful flowers year after year.

What Are Colchicum Flowers?

colchicum flowers

The colchicum is a member of the lily family and grows in a similar manner to other more common types of lilies.

Colchicum flowers are plants of many names. Though the scientific name is simple – colchicum – this plant is often referred to by its common names, which include Meadow Saffron, Autumn Crocus (fall crocus), and Naked Ladies.

Colchium is a word that instead just simply refers to a large genus of perennial flowering plants with 160 species of bulb flowers. It’s a member of the botanical family Colchicaceae. Not all colchicum flowers are alike, either – in fact, there are many cultivars of this plant, including C. autumnale and C.bulbocodium.

One factor that makes the colchicum stand out from other flowers is that it blooms in the fall months between the beginning of September all the way to the end of November. Its blooms are bright pinks, purples, and whites that form in cup-like shapes. 

Colchicum flowers are considered hardy perennials in USDA hardiness zones four, five, six, seven, and eight. These zones are the ideal location for the Colchicum flowers.

Although you can attempt to grow colchicum in cooler or warmer zones, you may not have much luck. These flowers require specific fall temperatures in order to bloom and may not have the required resources to thrive in other climates. 

Those who live in a climate that does not fall within the colchicum’s hardiness zone can consider planting their flowers in a container that can be brought inside; the colchicum does well as a container flower.

It is recommended that you plant colchicum in groups of at least ten. Each bulb will only produce a few flowers, so planting a decent number in a cluster together will give you a nice landscaping addition. 

Colchicum bulbs are decently expensive—between $5 to $15 each— and not so easily found, so if you are able to get your hands on some, you may not be able to purchase as many as you would like.

The good news is that you can easily split your colchicum flowers each season and can easily get seven to eight bulbs from a single bulb within a few years.

autumn crocus

Common Varieties of Colchicum Flowers You Can Grow

There are many different flower varieties you can plant. When it comes to colchicum, certain varieties will bring you varying flower colors, so you may want to do some searching if you want a specific color. 

Different varieties can also yield slightly different flower shapes and sizes, making each variety unique.

Giant Colchicum

The giant colchicum is one of the largest varieties for both flower size and overall height of the plant. The plant itself will grow to be around 10 inches high, which is tall in the world of colchicums; the blooms are also exceptionally large.

Each bulb from the giant colchicum can produce as many as ten flowers each, and its flowers are large funnel-shaped, similar to a regular-sized colchicum flower, but longer. 

The giant colchicum is said to be a little more frost resistant than other varieties, and some have had luck growing it below the general hardiness zone range. If grown in cooler climates, the plant may not live as long as it would have in its ideal zone range of four through eight. 

Waterlily Colchicum

The waterlily colchicum’s flowers are much different from that of a traditional colchicum, and they make this variety stand out.

The flowers look similar to a waterlily—hence the name—and come in shades of pink to light purple. The plants grow to be approximately six inches tall, and the flowers on top are of average size.

This variety is different in that it blooms a little earlier than most other colchicum flowers. Instead of the normal September through November bloom time, this variety is more likely to bloom between August and October. 

Colchicum Giganteum

The colchicum Giganteum is a more common variety of the colchicum and is also one of the oldest varieties. The flowers on this variety start as a white color, and slowly change to a pale lilac color over time; some flowers will end as a mix between the two colors.

The petals on the colchicum giganteum are broader and funnel-shaped than some other varieties which have smaller petals, making the flower look more like a bell than a funnel.

This variety also has exceptionally large leaves that open up in the springtime. The leaves are a more prominent feature on this variety than they are on most others.

Colchicum Bornmuelleri

The colchicum Bornmuelleri is a more traditional-looking colchicum flower and is another that is fairly common. The flowers on this variety are a light purple, generally with white centers and orange anthers.

The colchicum Bornmuelleri will only grow to be about six inches tall, making it a fairly short plant with flower heads to match.

This variety has small cup- or bell-shaped flowers that are said to have a sweet fragrance. The stems have no leaves and are bare, helping the flowers stand out. 

Double White Colchicum

The double white colchicum flowers are—you guessed it—white in color. The bright white of these flowers helps them to stand out against other flowers you may have growing nearby.

The petals are more spread out than most other varieties and look more like the waterlily variety than they do any other variety. The double white colchicum only grows between four and six inches in height, making it one of the shorter varieties.

This variety grows its flowers in tight clusters, which is unlike most other colchicum varieties. The clusters and spread-out petals create a beautiful look for any landscaping.


How to Care for Autumn Crocus

When it comes to caring for colchicum flowers, there isn’t much to be said. These flowers are pretty self-sufficient and can generally rely on the soil they are planted in and rainfall to get all the nutrients they need.

Although these flowers may not need much of your help, there are a few things you can do to set them up for success.

Sun Exposure

As with many flowering plants, sun exposure is of high importance. For the colchicum, a full sun environment will generally yield the best results. Most varieties can also be planted in a partially shaded location if a full sun location is not available or preferable.

Since the colchicum is a fall-blooming flower, you will most likely not have to worry about the heat wilting your flowers, making shade optional, but not required.

Colchicum flowers that are not exposed to enough sunlight may not bloom, or they may not have the energy to come back the following year. If you plant your crocus bulbs in a location that does not end up receiving enough light, you can move them while they are in a dormant state.

Soil

Well-drained soil is ideal for the colchicum, although it is not incredibly picky. Well-drained soil will work best because it is less likely to hold water around the roots, which can cause root rot and other unhealthy traits.

If planting in a garden bed or container, make sure to add drainage so water does not pool.

Planting your colchicum in soil that is rich in nutrients will also help to give it a good start. Soil that is in very poor condition can be supplemented with fertilizers prior to planting if necessary, but for the most part, the colchicum can make do with any soil conditions.

Watering

In general, you will probably never have to water your colchicum flowers. These flowers use water very efficiently and can do with nearly any amount of rainfall, even in dryer months.

If you happen to be going through a drought, or have an unusually hot fall, you can give your colchicum flowers a little extra boost by watering them once a week, but be careful not to overwater them.

If the soil surrounding the colchicum flowers is dry often but is still receiving some rainfall, the flowers should be fine. These are much more likely to be damaged by overwatering than they are underwatering. 

Planting

It is recommended that you plant colchicum flowers in groups of ten or more to create a mature-looking plant. 

Although each bulb can produce between five and ten flowers each—depending on the variety—most flowers are relatively small and look bigger and better in groups.

If you don’t have enough bulbs to create the group you want, you can split the bulbs after each season which will quickly multiply your flowers.

When you go to plant your bulbs in the ground, you should plant them approximately four inches underground and lightly cover them back in with the soil you removed to create the hole. If planting multiples, place them between 10 and 12 inches apart for best results. 

Cutting Foliage, or Lack Thereof

In the summer months, the foliage of the colchicum flowers may get a little out of hand, bringing down the overall look of your garden or landscaping. As much as you might want to cut it back, this foliage is serving an important purpose for your flowers and needs to remain intact to do its job.

The foliage is actually producing food that the plant uses to create its beautiful flowers. This is one of the big reasons why fertilizer is not necessary for the colchicum flowers. 

Dangers of Colchicum Flowers

Although colchicum may be beautiful, there’s more than meets the eye. There is a compound that can be found throughout the plant and flowers called colchicine, and it is poisonous.

Ingesting any part of the colchicum plant or flowers can cause serious medical conditions and in some cases, death. Many domestic animals, such as cats and dogs, will generally not have any interest in the colchicum plant, but livestock is another problem.

If there is colchicum growing in or near your pastures, it is a good idea to remove it immediately, as a grazing animal may not distinguish the flower as something they shouldn’t eat.

Small children are also at risk of ingesting the colchicum flowers. If you have kids, you know they like to get into things they shouldn’t. It is recommended to never plant colchicum flowers anywhere kids may be playing, or even where they might wander.

If this seems like an impossible task for your home, you may want to consider skipping the colchicum flowers until the kids have grown or have moved out.

Ingesting colchicine that comes from colchicum flowers is incredibly dangerous, and can lead to burning of the mouth and throat, diarrhea, stomach pains, kidney failure, vomiting, respiratory failure, and even death.

Although you should never ingest any part of colchicum flowers for these reasons, there are some medical applications that are strictly administered by medical professionals only. One of the main medical uses for colchicine is to prevent gout, a condition caused by too much uric acid in the blood.

When colchicine is prescribed, it is given in micrograms, which are 1,000 times smaller than a milligram, due to its aggressive tendency to negatively affect the body.

Conclusion

The colchicum flower can make a beautiful addition to your fall landscaping and is truly a plant-it-and-leave-it kind of flower. The flowers bloom in the fall and boast vibrant colored flowers that are impossible to miss.

If you are interested in planting colchicum flowers, consider their poisonous aspects; it is not recommended to plant them around grazing animals or children.

*Image by depositphotos.com/Mickis-Fotowelt

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