Gerald L. Klingaman
COLCHICUM autumnale 'Alboplenum'
Plant Common Name
Autumn Crocus, Meadow Saffron, Naked Ladies
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Like a welcome surprise, the lavender-pink, goblet-shaped flowers of autumn crocus pop up from the ground to confirm that summer has truly ended. The common name is misleading, though the flowers of this hardy "bulb" do superficially resemble crocuses, colchicums are not related to the genus Crocus.
Native from southern and western Europe to Russia, autumn crocus grows from plump corms (condensed underground stems) with papery tunics. In spring, these send up decorative large lance-shaped green leaves, which provide nourishment to the corm before withering and disappearing in late spring. The flowers arise in late summer and early fall, absent leaves. The long floral tubes are usually white and the petals (tepals) soft lavender-pink surrounding a central cluster of orange-yellow stamens. Bees flock to the flowers to store up pollen for winter.
The corms of autumn crocus are usually available for a short period in late summer, when they should be planted in a site with full to partial sun and fertile, humus-rich soil. Plant them in evergreen groundcovers such as ivy, creeping juniper, or Asiatic jasmine, which provide interest when the colchicums are dormant (and also help prop up the flowers). Colchicums also do and look well in meadows and lawns, or clumped in shrub borders.
This fascinating and beautiful plant is certain to brighten any garden. Its color is welcome in a season when the palette tends towards the yellows, oranges and blues of the fall composites. Some popular cultivars include 'Album', with white blossoms, and 'Pleniflorum', which has double pink-violet flowers.
There are health concerns associated with this plant; to learn more go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Colchau.htm