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Autumnal Croci

As we move into Fall, I thought I would begin a botanical series of eerie, dangerous and spooky plants as we grow into the spirit of the season. My first selection is Colchicum autumnale, or fall blooming crocus. I am frequently asked in September what beautiful pink flowers are blooming in the Lotus Creek Garden on the north side of the Garden. I offer a maniacal cackle, and let them know they are gazing upon a cormous perennial, native to Europe, from a region called Colchis, in the western end of Georgia (the country). 

Linking this fall blooming beauty with the small spring wonder with the same sobriquet is a mistake. Colchicum is in the Colchicaceae family, while spring crocus is in the lily, or Iridaceae family. They are not even from the same family, people! Colchicum, as I shall commonly name it so I do not have to keep italicizing the word, pushes foliage from spring to mid-summer, when the corm goes temporarily dormant and the leaves die back, followed by gorgeous pink flowers in September in this part of the world. This life cycle pattern is similar to the more familiar Lycoris squamigera; naked ladies, or resurrection lily. Both species belong to a group of geophytes classified as hysteranthous (leaves, then blooms). Spring crocus is classified as synanthous (leaves and blooms simultaneously). 

Okay before you fall asleep on my nerdiness, let us get to the good stuff: death by Colchicum. Fall blooming crocus is a tricky species. Like many plants used for medicinal use, treating inflammation and joint diseases, it could go wrong. See, colchicum contains alkaloid colchicines and demecolcine, which, if ingested, can lead to some fun things like puking, vomiting, trouble with liver, heart and lungs, among other medical terms I am not literate enough to understand. The point is, do not mess with this femme fatale.Though poisoning leading to death is apparently rare, I still would not care to do the tango with this underground storage lover. However, if you’re looking for a spooky story to tell on your next visit to Wellfield, now you’ve got some interesting fodder.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

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