background
 

education

Colchicum

Colchicum
 

Popular name: Naked Ladies

 

Flower colour: lilac, pink, violet, purplish, white and sometimes yellow

Flowering period: September/October

Average plant height: 10-25 cm

Planting depth: 15-20 cm

Spacing between bulbs: 15 cm

Type of bulb: corm

Light requirements: sun, partial shade

The literature mentions about 30 different species found in Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor and Central Asia. It is very likely that the name came from Kolchis, a coastal area near the Black Sea and in bygone days the home to Medea, the famous mixer of poisons. A kolchicum was thus a plant from Kolchis, its name also alluding to the poisonous qualities of such species as C. autumnale. The species name for this particular colchicum indicates that it flowers in the autumn.

The plant contains an alkaloid known as colchicine which is present in all its parts but more concentrated in the seeds. Colchicine can affect the number of chromosomes in plants, thus causing ’spontaneous’ mutations. A positive use for this substance is its widespread application in bulb cultivation as well as in pharmaceutical preparations. The negative side is that the plant is poisonous to livestock. Although the livestock avoid eating the live plants growing in grazing land, the plants can also be found in hayfields. If harvested with the rest of the hay, the Colchicums will not lose their toxicity upon being dried and can then be ingested by the livestock. For garden use, however, people have little to fear in regard to the plant’s poisonous nature.

Most significant species:

C. autumnale is one of the earliest flowering species (early September). This species is native to the Netherlands (although rare), and to Belgium and Germany. Its flowers are purplish-pink and individually small. A white cultivar and a double-flowering cultivar are available which are prettier than the species.

C. bornmuelleri comes from Turkey. Its flowers are purple with a pink blush o n the outside and they have a white throat. It flowers in September-October.

C. byzantinum has extremely large corms that can easily produce 20 purple-pink flowers. Both the species and its white cultivar flower in September. Quite suitable as a ’dry-flowering corm’.

C. cilicicum blooms in late September, a bit later than C. byzantinum to which it is closely related. The flowers are light violet and have a faint fragrance. The leaves appear immediately after the flowering period.

C. ’Giant’ is a product of a cross between C. giganteum and C. bornmuelleri and one of the many lovely species bred by the firm of Zocher & Co. in Haarlem. ’Giant’ lives up to its name, its big violet flowers growing to 25 cm. in height. The flowers have a white base and bloom in September-October.

C. ’Lilac Wonder’ is another product from the house of Zocher. This cultivar does not bloom until October. Its petals are amethyst-violet. The flower is large although slender.

C. speciosum is considered by many enthusiasts to be the most suitable for garden use. The flowers are purple-pink and somewhat globe-shaped. They flower in September.

C. ’Violet Queen’ is another Zocher product. The flowers, appearing in September, are purplish with a purple and white-veined centre and are adorned with striking orange anthers.

C. ’Waterlily’ is a double-flowered variety; each lilac-pink flower consists of more than 20 petals. It makes a truly unique display.