Monday, October 3, 2011

Colchicums: The "Other" Autumn Crocus

Every season has its stars. While we love the plants that give us blooms and color all summer long, we look forward to those that have their place in the sun (or shade) for a brief time, too. In the fall, we have fall-blooming crocus (Crocus pulchellus and Crocus sativus, among others) , toad lilies (Tricyrtis sp.), and of course, mums and asters.

A couple of years ago, I purchased several corms of Colchicum 'Waterlily' and planted them in four different locations. Often called Autumn Crocus or Meadow Saffron, they rise on naked stems from the soil during the last half of September here in zone 5b.

Growing no taller than 6-8 inches, their giant blooms measure as large as six inches across and my 'Waterlily' blooms have a lavender-pink color that glows in the landscape. The blooms of this heirloom variety (1928) are multi-petaled and heavy and sometimes lay down on the ground because of the weight. They can last over a week in water as a cut flower.

The foliage appears in the spring and gathers energy from the sun and soil to prepare for the fall blooms. After its brief appearance, they go dormant through summer until the blooms emerge in fall.

I planted three corms in each location and in just a couple of years, they have multiplied to form a nice little clump. Next summer, I'll dig them and divide the corms so that I have an even larger clump, which is what I wanted. Colchicums can be rather pricey as bulbs/corms go, so I'm glad they multiply so easily.

Colchicums are best planted in mid-summer, when the corms are dormant, in a well-drained area. They're hardy to zones 5-8.


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