The differences between Colchicum and Autumn Crocus
Fall blooming bulbs are a rare but delightful treat. Most people are familiar with Surprise Lilies, but the list of late bloomers doesn’t stop there.
Colchicum, also known as Meadow Saffron, is a short, lilac-colored flower that appears in September. Like Surprise Lilies, the bulb leaves show up in spring, then die back until the flowers appear in fall. This is the opposite of spring bulbs which bloom, produce leaves, then go dormant.
Autumn Crocus (Crocus sativus) is slightly different from Colchicum, with a smaller flower and slightly different shade of lilac. This form of Crocus is the true source for the spice, Saffron, which comes from the anthers of the flower.
Both bulbs are lovely additions to the landscape, delighting the viewer with the unexpected blooms. Plant either the Autumn Crocus or Colchicum under ground cover where the blooms emerge through the foliage, adding that pop of color late in the season.
A little trivia, Colchicum contains colchicine, a chemical which is used medically for the treatment of gout. This chemical is also used for increasing chromosomes to help in the hybridization of plants. The good news is that these bulbs are generally avoided by mice, voles, squirrels, and deer.
Surprise Lilies (Lycoris squamigera) are generally pink, are much taller than Autumn Crocus, and bloom in late summer rather than fall.
In an attempt to make sense of all of this, Colchicum is also known as Autumn Crocus but is a member of the colchicum family. Crocus is a member of the iris family, another example of how confusing common names can be. Surprise Lily is in the amaryllis family. The take away here is that these bulbs produce pretty flowers in the fall and always delight the observer when they appear.