We are all familiar with the spring crocus, but there is also a crocus look alike that blooms in the fall. Colchicum is known as autumn crocus or naked lady. The flowers emerge long after the tall spring leaves have died back, hence the fun name of naked lady. I first saw this plant many years ago when I was unaware of it’s name, and was mystified why such a large crocus was blooming in the fall. Little did I know it was not a crocus at all.
Colchicums contain coclicine which is a useful drug, however it also makes this plant extremely poisonous. Autumn crocus are not related to crocus and are in fact more closely related to lilies. In the fall they produce large, goblet-like blooms in violet, pink or white. Blooms last for about 2 to 3 weeks, then the plant lies dormant until spring when it once again grows it’s leaves. Growing autumn crocus is pretty easy and they are also quite maintenance free, only requiring watering in very dry areas. They prefer semi-shade in moist, well drained, rich soil but will tolerate more sun if kept well watered.
Generally they are hardy to zone 5 and can be divided when the foliage matures. They should then be replanted right away. Planting Colchicums is also a simple matter but they must be planted as soon as they are purchased, as they have a very short shelf life.They should be planted about 3-4 inches deep and 6 inches apart. It is also important that the spring leaves are allowed to mature or you will loose your fall blossoms.
Fall crocus tend to be a little on the expensive side and for greater choice can be ordered through mail-order bulb and corm suppliers. A few good varieties to look for are Autumn Queen / The Giant / Waterlily / Lilac Wonder / Violet Queen and Conquest