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COLCHICUM

Image of Colchicum

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Liliaceae

Botanical Name

COLCHICUM

Plant Common Name

Colchicum

General Description

Showy-flowered "bulbs" that are often overlooked because they mostly bloom late in the year rather than in spring, colchicums make excellent additions to the garden. They occur naturally from western Europe to central Asia and the Himalayas.

Colchicums produce goblet- or funnel-shaped flowers on ankle- to shin-high, stem-like floral tubes. Superficially resembling crocus flowers (leading to the misleading common name "autumn crocus"), they are typically produced in late summer or early fall, although some small colchicums bloom in late winter and early spring. Most have lilac or purple flowers, but a few have white blooms and one has yellow. The flowers often have contrasting checkering or eye zones. Large colchicums are comparable to tulips in flower size; smaller ones have crocus-sized blossoms.

Although predominately fall-blooming, most colchicums bear their lance-shaped leaves in spring. The leaves of some can reach impressive proportions. The foliage and bulbs grow from a bulb-like storage organ know as a corm, which is usually cone-shaped. Large colchicums can have corms the size of tennis balls.

Comprising hundreds of species and cultivars, colchicums are most often represented in gardens by cultivars and hybrids of two fall-blooming species: the large, rosy-purple-flowered Colchicum speciosum and the smaller, more lilac-toned C. autumnale.

Colchicums do best in full to partial sun and deep, moist, fertile, well-drained soil. The corms are often planted under low groundcovers like creeping juniper or ivy, which provide a green background and support the blossoms during wind and rainfall. These lovely perennials also are perfect for bringing new life to the late-season perennial garden or shrub planting. The corms will bloom even if not in soil! Purchase the corms in mid- to late summer, so they can be planted before they bloom.

All parts of Colchicum plants contain the potent alkaloid colchicine; see http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Colchau.htm

Characteristics

  • Sunset Zone

    2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Bulb or Corm or Tuber

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    3"-7" / 7.6cm - 17.8cm

  • Width

    3"-10" / 7.6cm - 25.4cm

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Late Summer, Early Fall, Fall, Late Fall, Winter, Late Winter

  • Native To

    Europe, Turkey, Central Asia, Western Asia

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Yellow, Purple, Violet

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single, Double

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Alpine, Container, Cutflower, Foundation, Lawns and Turf, Mixed Border, Rock Garden / Wall, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No