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12 Interesting Facts About Colchicum

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Colchicum, commonly known as autumn crocus or meadow saffron, is a genus of flowering plants that bloom in the fall. Here are 12 fascinating facts about this eye-catching flower.

Introduction

Colchicum is native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. With its bright lilac blooms arising from the ground without any leaves present, colchicum provides a welcome spot of late season color in meadows and woodland gardens.

Though beautiful, colchicum contains poisonous alkaloids and must be handled with care. The plant has a long history of medicinal use despite its toxicity.

Read on for more intriguing details about autumn crocus’s unique attributes and rich history.

Facts and Details about Colchicum

Colchicum cilicicum003
Colchicum cilicicum003 by Meneerke bloem is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

1. Colchicum is not a true crocus.

While colchicum is commonly called autumn crocus, it is not part of the Crocus genus. True crocuses bloom in spring.

2. Colchicum flowers emerge without leaves.

One of colchicum’s most distinctive features is that its vivid blossoms emerge directly from the soil in fall, long before any leaves appear. Leaves emerge the following spring.

3. The flowers arise from corms.

Colchicum blooms originate from underground corms – rounded, swollen stem bases that act as storage organs. Corms produce new cormlets that multiply and generate more plants.

4. The fruit is a capsule.

After pollination, the ovary of colchicum flowers matures into a three-valved seed capsule. The capsules contain many seeds and later split open to release them.

5. Colchicum is toxic, but has medicinal uses.

All parts of colchicum contain poisonous alkaloids like colchicine. Ingesting parts of the plant can cause burning sensations and organ damage. However, colchicine has medicinal uses too, like treating gout and familial Mediterranean fever.

6. The name comes from Colchis.

Colchicum’s scientific name honors Colchis, an ancient kingdom on the Black Sea’s eastern shore where the golden fleece legend originated. Colchicum grows wild there.

7. Meadow saffron is another common name.

In Europe, colchicum is also referred to as meadow saffron due to its grassland habitats and the saffron-yellow stamens present in some species. However, the plant is unrelated to true saffron, Crocus sativus.

8. Colchicum is a member of the lily family.

Along with lilies, colchicum belongs to the Liliaceae or lily family. Other members of this family include tulips, onions, garlic, and asparagus.

9. Several species exist.

While some botanists recognize as many as 100 species, around 20 species of colchicum are widely accepted. They include C. autumnale, C. byzantinum, C. speciosum, and C. agrippinum.

10. Colchicum grows from Britain to Iran.

Wild colchicum plants have a extensive native distribution across middle latitudes of Europe and Asia, ranging west to east from Britain to Iran. Some species have also naturalized in parts of North America and Australia.

11. The plant has been depicted in art.

With its showy blossoms and mythological associations, colchicum has been featured in various historical paintings and illustrations over the centuries. Well-known artists like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted images of colchicum meadows.

12. Colchicum is propagated by seed or division.

Colchicum bulbs multiply steadily when happy, making division an easy way to propagate new plants every few years. However, colchicum can also be grown from seed. Seeds require a warm stratification period followed by cold stratification before germinating.

Conclusion

From its unusual flowering habits to its toxic chemistry and prominence in art, colchicum is full of surprises. This hardy fall-bloomer gives a needed preview of spring while providing cheerful color to fading fall gardens. With proper handling, colchicum can create spectacular effects in cultivated beds and borders.


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