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Colchicum speciosum 'Album'

Colchicum speciosum 'Album'

This bright little flower illuminates the ground in September all over Battleston Hill and around Seven Acres.

Vital statistics

Common name
Meadow saffron 'Album', Autumn crocus
Family
Colchicaceae
Height & spread
15-20cm (6-8in) x 40-50cm (15-20in)
Form
Cormous perennial
Soil
Well-drained, fertile
Aspect
Full sun or partial shade
Hardiness
Fully hardy

Colchicum

The name Colchicum comes from Colchis, a mountainous area that borders the Black Sea in Georgia and is home to many of the species. Most grow in subalpine meadows or on stony (sometimes wooded) hillsides. Colchicums are also native to Europe (including the UK), North Africa, West and Central Asia, Northern India and Western China.

They have basal, linear, strap-shaped or elliptic-ovate leaves, often ribbed or pleated which develop with or after the cup or goblet-shaped flowers.

There are about 45 species in the genus with crocus-like flowers, few of which are in cultivation.

Colchicum speciosum 'Album'

Attractive and vigorous, C. speciosum 'Album' is generally regarded as the best colchicum. It has stout, upright, goblet-shaped, clean white blooms, which are produced in autumn and supported on sturdy, green perianth tubes. The large, semi-erect, basal leaves are 18-25cm (7-10in) long and develop after the flowers in winter or spring.

Naturally occurring C. autumnale 'Album' is less desirable, and produces many smaller, off-white flowers, often giving rise to the unflattering nickname of 'dog bones'.

Cultivation

  • Position colchicums in a sheltered site that receives afternoon sunshine to encourage a good succession of flowers that open widely. Deep shade restricts flowering and results in one or two spindly flowers, but sunnier areas sheltered by mature trees or shrubs suit colchicums well because the associated root systems dry out the soil.
  • Plant colchicums 8-10cm (3-4in) deep, either as soon as the corms can be bought in August or September, or when the leaves are dead and the corms can be lifted in June or July. Arrange small clumps of six or more corms in sites where the flowers can be seen to advantage in the autumn, and the leaves will not be too obtrusive or smothering in spring.
  • All parts of the colchicum plant are poisonous and gardeners should wash their hands after handling.
  • The corms and leaves may be eaten by slugs and grey mould (Botrytis) may be a problem.

 

Propagation

  • Sow seeds of Colchicum speciosum when ripe (June or July) in a cold frame in pots using seed compost. Germination may take as much as 18 months.
  • They take from three to six years, occasionally longer, to reach flowering size.
  • Named varieties do not breed true. All, however, increase steadily by the production of offsets. Separate these when lifting corms in June or July, and either replant in the flowering site or grow them on for a year or two in a spare piece of ground.

AGM

The RHS Rock Garden Plant Trials Subcommittee awarded Colchicum speciosum 'Album' an Award of Garden Merit and described it as:

"A corm with 1-3 green-throated, pure white flowers 6cm long. Strap-shaped bright green leaves to 25cm long appear in spring."

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