Plant of the Month: November 2021

Colchicums

by Pat Hunter

Firstly, a rider, all photographs, unless stated, are from my garden and are labelled with the name they were purchased as! There seems to be quite a lot of mis-sales, I have doubts about some, and I am a member of a Colchicum group where many people say the same. I presume some of this comes from the fact that we buy them as dry corms and not in flower.

In the latest Colchicum book by Christopher Grey-Wilson, Rod Leeds and Robert Rolfe published in October 2020, there are 104 species. They can be found in Europe, North Africa, West and Central Asia. They can also be called Naked Ladies because of flowering before the foliage appears.

They are usually goblet shaped in shades of white, pink and pale purple, (this is over simplifying them but I am not writing a book here). They grow from a large corm, and to tell the difference between Crocus and Colchicum, count the stamens! Crocus has 3 stamens, a style that divides into 3 and an ovary under the flower. Colchicum has 6 stamens, 3 styles and a superior ovary (the flower cups the ovary).

A medicinal use is the extraction of colchicine from Colchicum autumnale, which is used in the treatment of gout.

In cultivation there are varieties for the alpine house, the rock garden or scree bed, under deciduous shrubs or in turf, as seen here at Newby Hall in September.

Fig. 1

The  Colchicums in my garden are fully hardy and grow in the open border or on the scree bed. I find them very easy, not fussy in any way. The rabbits seem to avoid them, maybe because of their poisonous nature. They can flower without being put in soil, flowering with no roots, seen as a novelty in some garden centres.

My Colchicum season starts in late August. Colchicum ‘Autumn Queen’, with chequered flowers and a white throat, being the first to flower (figs. 2 & 3)

At the beginning of September Colchicum agrippinum with heavily tessellated or chequered flowers, and smaller than ‘Autumn Queen’.

Fig. 4 Colchicum agrippinum

Flowering about the same time is Colchicum x tenorei, pink with a white midrib to the petal (fig. 5).

Fig. 5

In Fig 6 the front flowers are Colchicum byzantinum ‘Innocence’ with just a tip of purple to the white flowers.

Fig. 6

By mid September Colchicum autumnale ‘Nancy Lindsay’ flowers in a sunny border (fig. 7).

Fig. 7

The first white is Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’.

Fig. 8

By the end of September some have now finished flowering, but it is the main season for most, C. cilicium purpureum, (fig 9), the double ’Waterlily’, (fig. 10), C. speciosum ‘Album’, (fig. 11) and ‘Ocktoberfest’, fig. 12).

Two more that have definite names, flowering as I write on October 16th are C. speciosum ‘Atrorubens’, (fig. 13) and new to me this year, ‘Benton End’, (fig 14).

Before I finish, there are 2 anomalies, one that was sold as C. speciosum ‘Album’, which it obviously is not,(fig. 15) and one bulb that is doing 2 different things, (fig. 16).

They can be used in planting schemes – here are two pictures to give a couple of ideas of plant associations

But do remember the foliage, that feeds the corm for another year follows all these lovely flowers, here are 2 pictures taken on June 16th of Colchicum foliage.

Is this becoming like a Galanthophile obsession? As I gather more in the garden you have to look for the small differences!

As I pass this on to Brian for the website, they are still going strong at the end of October. I can cover 3 months in my garden but there are others out there to extend my season. This is ‘Dick Trotter’ today.

C. ‘Dick Trotter’

     

  • Images courtesy of Pat Hunter


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