Flowering this week: Colchicum autumnale

Autumn flowering colchicum, robust growing bulbs suitable for the garden or naturalising

Now that the temperatures have dropped noticeably and I am reconciled to the thought that summer has been and gone for another year, I am prepared to welcome the sight of the colchicums in flower. These are often called the autumn crocus because their simple six petalled cup-like flowers resemble those bulbs but they are distant relatives at best. They have their very own botanical family which is colchicaceae. Their flowers are considerably larger than most crocus and they flower well before their foliage appears. Because they have very large bulbs and grow quite vigorously, they are not shy delicate little things you will lose in a garden situation. In fact they can be naturalised in grass. The flowers are more lilac than pink and are hardly long lived but you can get a succession of them from a single bulb. When the leaves appear, they are relatively large, lush and green but the downside is that the foliage hangs on for a long time into early summer by which point it no longer looks attractive at all. Autumnale is native to quite large areas of Europe.

Colchicums are the source of colchicine, a controlled pharmaceutical of considerably potency used in cancer treatments and also to cause mutations in living cells, which is sometimes advantageous but does need to be handled with care. These bulbs are also the true Naked Ladies though we more commonly refer to belladonnas as bearing this politically incorrect epithet.