This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
(from Colchis, a country in Asia Minor, where the genus is most plentiful). Liliaceae. Meadow Saffron. Autumn Crocus. Autumn flowering, rarely spring-flowering, bulbous plants with crocus-like blossoms.
Leaves either all radical, or radical and cauline, sometimes ciliate, appearing in early spring and usually dying down by June: flowers various colored, very beautiful; perianth tubular, varying from purple to white (there is 1 yellow-flowered sort), the limb 6-parted; stamens 6, inserted on the perianth; ovary 3-celled, many-ovuled: caps, ovate-oblong in most of the species, the seeds globose. - A difficult genus, very much confused botanically, but horticulturally well known and popular. They are narcotic poisons. J. G. Baker, Jour. Linn. Soc. 17. 1880. G. B. Mallett, in Flora and Sylva, 1:108, 1903, has an excellent horticultural account of the genus.
Colchicums are most charming and interesting plants of easy culture. The bloom comes in August and September, at a season when the herbaceous beds begin to lose their freshness, and, although individual flowers are fugacious, others follow in quick succession, thus prolonging the time of flowering. Opening, as they do, without foliage, some help is required from the greenery of other plants; for this purpose any low-growing, not too dense kind, may be used, such as the dwarf arte-misias, sedums, or Phlox subulata. Colchicums are most effective in masses, which can be established by thick planting, or as the result of many years' growth. They can be grown in rockwork, in beds, or in grass which is not too thick nor too often mown; they will thrive in partial shade, but succeed best in an open sunny border. They should be planted in August or early September, in deep well-enriched soil, a light sandy loam, with the tip of the long bulbs 2 to 3 inches below the surface; some protection should be given in winter. They remain in good condition for many years, and should not be disturbed unless they show signs of deterioration, fewer flowers and poor foliage.
Then they should be lifted and separated, just after the leaves die, end of June or early July. This is the usual method of propagation, but they can also be increased from seeds, sown just after ripening, June to July; the seedlings may not appear until the following spring. Seedlings bloom when three to five years old. The bulbs are obtainable from the Dutch growers at moderate prices, and they must be imported early; otherwise they are apt to bloom in the cases. C. autumnale, with rosy purple flowers, is a well-known and the most commonly cultivated species. There are numerous varieties, of which the best are the white, the double white and the double purple. Belonging to this same group and not differing much except in size and shading of the flower, are C. byzantinum, C. montanum, and C. umbrosum. C. speciosum, a native of the Caucasus, is the finest in every way of the genus. The flowers are much larger and of better shape, and the color, a rosy pink, is much more delicate; the habit of growth is robust, and the plant is most easily handled. C. Parkinsonii is distinct from the above varieties inasmuch as the flowers are tessellated, purple and white, giving a curious checker-board appearance which is unique; the leaves are much smaller and are wavy.
C. agrippinum, C. Bivonse, C. cilicicum and C. Sibthorpii, are other species having checkered flowers more or less similar to C. Parkinsonii. C. Bulbocodium=Bulboco-dium vernum. Monograph by J. G. Baker in Jour. Linn. Soc, vol. 17 (1880). (B. M. Watson.)
b. Color rosy lilac: size of anthers small.
c. Anthers oblong, purple.
(C. Bertolonii, Stev.). An important and variable species, with many synonyms and variations. Baker makes 7 forms. Corm ovoid, 1/2-1 in. thick, the tunics brown, membrananceous, the inner ones produced to a point 2-4 in. above the neck: leaves 2-3, rarely 4-6, linear or lanceolate, about 2-3 in. long at the time of flowering, finally 6-9 in. long: flowers 1-4, in spring and autumn. Oct. - June. Medit. region, from Spain to Persia. B.M. 6443. - It appears in early spring with the snowdrops and crocuses.
Corm ovate-oblong: leaves all radical, sheathing at the base, a few sometimes on the stem, flat and linear, margins minutely and usually distantly toothed: corolla white, with violet-purple stripes, especially within, the tube about 2 in. long, the limb scarcely 1-1 1/3 in. long; style exceeding the stamens. Feb., March. Cent. Asia.
cc. Anthers linear, yellow.
Corm narrower than in No. 1, about 1/2- 3/4in- thick: leaves at length 4-5 in. long: flowers Oct. - Jan. Syria, Arabia, Persia. - Less popular than No. 1.
bb. Color yellow: size of anthers large.
This is the only yellow-flowered form in the genus, all the others ranging from purple to white. Although it belongs to the Medit. group, with leaves and flowers produced at the same time and in spring, it is a native of W. India at an elevation of 7,000-8,000 ft. Corm tunics dark brown, sometimes almost black: leaves 3 or 4, wider and less tapering than in No. 1, at the time of flowering 3-4 in. long, finally 6-7 in. long. B.M. 6153. - Very desirable.
aa. Blooming in autumn: leaves appearing after the flowers
B. Perianth tessellated or checkered.
c. Tessellation distinct.
D. Leaves spreading or prostrate.
Leaves 2-3, lanceolate, about 6 in. long, 12-15 lines wide, lying flat on the ground; margins wavy: flowers 2-3 from each spathe, 4 in. across, rose-color with a white tube. Isls. of the Levant and Asia Minor. B.M. 1028. Variable. The plant known as C. ch ionense is apparently a form of it. Corm size of walnut.
(B.M. 6090) (C. tessellatum, Authors), is the best of all the tessellated forms, the tessellation being more sharply defined and more delicate than the type. It is a smaller plant, and has shorter and more strongly undulated leaves, which he closer to the ground. Of this plant Parkinson said in his "Paradi-sus Terrestris," 1629: "This most beautifull saffron flower riseth up with his flowers in the Autumne, as the others before specified doe, although not of so large a size, yet farre more pleasant and delightf ull in the thicke, deep blew, or purple coloured beautifull spots therein, which make it excell all others whatsoever: the leaves rise up in the Spring, being smaller then the former, for the most part 3 in number, and of a paler or fresher green color, lying close upon the ground, broad at the bottome, a little pointed at the end, and twining or folding themselves in and out at the edges, as if they were indented. I have not seen any seede it hath borne: the root is like unto the others of this kinde, but small and long, and not so great: it flowereth later for the most part then any of the other, even not untill November, and is very hard to be preserved with us, in that for the most part the roote waxeth lesse and lesse every yeare, our cold Country being so contrary unto his naturall, that it will scarce shew his flower; yet when it flowereth any thing early, that it may have any comfort of a warm Sunne, it is the glory of all these kindes." dd.
Leaves ascending. E. Margin of leaves wavy.