September 27, 2012

The Crocus of Autumn

Colchicum make excellent cut flowers, they can last more than a week in water, and picking them will actually make your display next year even better.

The true Autumn Crocus - those true crocus species which bloom in the autumn which are organized by plant taxonomists firmly within the genus Crocus, and their look-alike cousins, those plants in the genus Colchicum - and also sometimes listed as 'autumn crocus'  can be confusing to many new ( and experienced) gardeners. Don't fret - both are easy and long-lived in the garden, and they may be the most economical bulbs money can buy.

Once only grown by the most adventurous of gardeners, these autumnal bulbs are becoming more popular, but ever-so-slowing. I have a theory about why these bulbs are still not common in most of our gardens - we have a short attention span, and although when we see their brilliant violet or white blossoms each autumn, it is already too late to purchase them, and by the time spring comes around, they are a distant memory. Colchicum and Autumn blooming crocus are then just grown by the organized, and the planner-types. So take note. At least for next year. Until then some tips about both of these bulbs.

Colchicum are available in about a dozen species and selections commercially, but remember to order them during their short period of availability - July and early August. The double form sold under the cultivar name of 'Waterlily' is one of the finest, yet single forms can put on an equally spectacular display as seen above. Colchicum, if happy, gradually divide into larger clumps. I have some that have been growing for thirty years, and they only get better every year.

Autumn Crocus in commercial catalogs are terribly mixed up, with names and cultivars often being mislabeled. I wouldn't worry, as many commercial varieties are simply all the same one - last year I ordered six species, and three named forms and they were all the exact same cultivar ( see above). I'm not complaining, the display was spectacular.

Autumn Crocus, if  planted as soon as they arrive in late September, will bloom in a few weeks. -Think - purple paperwhites, and plant a few dozen in containers for doorsteps and windowsills. Then slip the rootball's into the garden after bloom, for a repeat show next year.

Crocus medius, another muddled species - related, but hard to properly identify with commercial stock. I would need to purchase bulbs from a European collector to get proper species - something to save for my retirement project. For now, I just enjoy whatever I can get.

Saffron Anyone? It's not the yellow pollen that supplies the world's most expensive spice,  it's the stigma. See the distended parts here? I dare not pick them, not because I want seed, since most if not all C. sativus are sterile, it's that I would need to plant the entire greenhouse just to get a single ounce.


  1. Really lovely, I've got to figure out a place to put some of those. What kind of spots do they like?

  2. Hi Jason - Like most autumn blooming bulbs from Turkey, Armenia and the East, they prefer dry summers. Under trees that leaf out in the summer, or in open borders that tend to go dry in the summer, alpine beds or near foundations is best. Colchicum mix well in borders but be careful about summer plants. Remember, these bulbs send up lush foliage in the spring, and that must be considered. It will fade yellow and die by July, so you must be careful where you dig - you don't want to accidentally push a spade into a clump of bulbs.

  3. I have them too and love them. This spring I dug mine up while in leaf and they bloomed this fall. I was careful to get them planted right away. I will have to try cutting some for indoors, never thought they would last. Thanks for that tip Matt.

  4. Oh how beautiful. My Crocus didn't bloom this year so I will enjoy them vicariously. Thanks for the post!

  5. Fall crocuses...never heard of them until our Denver visit, and now you and Bob Nold's blog. Depending on where my next garden might be, those could be fun to use well! Simply amazing.

  6. Such a beautifully coloured flower from such a humble bulb & they look so good planted in groups. After they've bloomed, should I cut off the long fallen green leaves, or just leave them to do their thing naturally?


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