Colchicum autumnale


Common name: Autumn Crocus Family: Colchicaceae
Author: L. Botanical references: 17, 200
Synonyms:  
Known Hazards: All parts of the plant, but especially the bulb200, are poisonous4, 7, 10, 19, 65. They cause vomiting, violent purging, serious inflammation of the stomach and bowels, and death232. Handling the corms can cause skin allergies in some people238.
Range: Central and southeastern Europe, including Britain, from Denmark to Spain, east to Macedonia.
Habitat: Meadows and damp woodland clearings1, 10, 13 on calcareous and neutral soils17. Extremely rare away from the Bristol Channel in Britain7.
Edibility Rating (1-5): 0 Medicinal Rating (1-5): 3
Other Possible Synonyms: From various places across the web, may not be correct. See below.
C. auutumnaleE
Other Common Names: From various places around the Web, may not be correct. See below.
Autumn Crocus H,P, Autumn-crocus B, Cigdem E, Colchicum E, Colquico E, Herbstreitlose E, Meadow Saffron E,H,L, Naked Boys H, Wilde Herfsttijloos D,
Epithets: From a Dictionary of Botanical Epithets
autumnale = of autumn; colchicum = Colchis, west Georgia;
Other Range Info: From the Ethnobotany Database
Europe; Germany; Greece; Spain; Turkey

Physical Characteristics

Bulb growing to 0.15m by 0.15m . It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf from February to July, in flower from August to October, and the seeds ripen from April to June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees and flies. The plant is self-fertile. It is noted for attracting wildlife. We rate it 0/5 for edibility and 3/5 for medicinal use.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.

Habitats and Possible Locations

Meadow, Lawn, Woodland, Sunny Edge, Dappled Shade.

Edible Uses

None known

Medicinal Uses

Analgesic; Antirheumatic; Cathartic; Emetic; Homeopathy.

Though known since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, autumn crocus was considered too poisonous to use medicinally and it was not until research in the Eighteenth century that the plant was discovered to be of value in the treatment of gout

268. In modern herbalism it is still used to relieve the pain and inflammation of acute gout and rheumatism, although frequent use has been known to encourage more frequent attacks of the complaint232, 268. Both the corm and the seeds are analgesic, antirheumatic, cathartic and emetic4, 7, 13, 21, 235. They are used mainly in the treatment of gouty and rheumatic complaints, usually accompanied with an alkaline diuretic4. Leukaemia has been successfully treated with autumn crocus, and the plant has also been used with some success to treat Bechet’s syndrome, a chronic disease marked by recurring ulcers and leukaemia254. A very toxic plant, it should not be prescribed for pregnant women or patients with kidney disease, and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner238. See also the notes above on toxicity. The seeds are harvested in early summer, the corms in mid to late summer when the plant has fully died down. They are dried for later use238. The fresh bulb is used to make a homeopathic remedy232. It is used in the treatment of nausea, diarrhoea and rheumatism232.

Other Uses

Plant breeding.

The poisonous alkaloid ‘colchicine’ is extracted from this plant and used to alter the genetic make-up of plants in an attempt to find new, improved varieties

9, 13, 19, 46, 100, 171. It works by doubling the chromosome number89.

Cultivation details

Prefers a rich well-drained loam in a sunny position1, 188. Tolerates partial shade but dislikes dry soils1. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.5 to 7.5. Plants are hardy to about -20°c200. The dormant bulbs are fairly hardy and will withstand soil temperatures down to at least -5°c214. The autumn crocus is easily grown in grass90 and can be naturalized there200. It also grows well amongst shrubs and by woodland edges28. Plant the corms about 7 – 10cm deep in July1. Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits233, though slugs may attack the corms238. The flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies201.

Propagation

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in early summer in a seed bed or a cold frame1, 164. Germination can be very slow, taking up to 18 months at 15°c164. It is best to sow the seed thinly so that it is not necessary to transplant the seedlings for their first year of growth. Apply a liquid fertilizer during their first summer, however, to ensure they get sufficient nourishment. Prick out the seedlings once they are dormant, putting perhaps 2 plants per pot, and grow them on in a greenhouse or frame for at least a couple of years. Plant them out into their permanent positions when they are dormantK. The seedlings take 4 – 5 years to reach flowering size1. Division of the bulbs in June/July when the leaves have died down1. Larger bulbs can be planted out direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up the smaller bulbs and grow them on in a cold frame for a year before planting them out. The plant can be divided every other year if a quick increase is required1.