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Plant Profile: Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

This autumn blooming perennial is a member of the Colchicaceae family and not related to spring blooming crocus that is in the iris family, Iridaceae. It is also called naked lady because the flowers bloom without leaves but this common name is also used for other plants. Colchicum autumnale is native to Great Britain and Ireland but has naturalized in Sweden, Denmark, European Russian, the Baltic States, and New Zealand. C. autumnale has lanceloate, glossy, bright green, leaves up to twelve inches long by one inch wide. They emerge in the spring but die down before the flowers emerge in the late summer to early fall. The white to purple flowers are two to three inches long and tubular at the base. They are carried on leafless stems six to ten inches long and quickly give way to many seeded capsules carried on stalks that elongate above the foliage as it emerges in spring. The genus name Colchicum is the Latinized form of Colchis, in the area of the Black Sea where this kind of plant is found. The specific epithet is the Latinized form of the season in which the flowers appear.

Type: Herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Lavender to white tubular flowers two to three inches long appear on leafless stems six to ten inches long in late summer or fall.

Size: 6-8” H x 6-8” W

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Humusy, moderately moist, well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 4-9

Care: Dig, divide and replant corms every three years.

Pests and Diseases: Snails, slugs, fungal smut

Propagation: Division of corms

Companion Plants: Ground covers such as Vinca minor, Galium odoratum, ornamental sweet potatos such as “Balckie” and ‘Margarita’, Pachysandra terminalis, P. procumbens, will cover bare spots when plants are summer dormant; Foliage of purple leaved Heucheras, or Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’; underplant roses, hydrangeas and other shrubs that bloom in summer.