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Colchicum speciosum000.jpg
Colchicum speciosum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Colchicaceae
Genus: Colchicum
  • Abandium Adans.
  • Bulbocodium L.
  • Celsia Boehm. nom. illeg.
  • Eudesmis Raf. nom. superfl.
  • Fouha Pomel
  • Geophila Bergeret nom. reg.
  • Hermodactylum (R.Br.) Bartl. nom. inval.
  • Merendera Ramond
  • Monocaryum (R.Br.) Rchb.
  • Paludana Salisb. nom. illeg.
  • Synsiphon Regel

Colchicum (/ˈkɒlɪkəm/ or /ˈkɒlkɪkəm/[2]) is a genus of perennial flowering plants containing around 160 species which grow from bulb-like corms. It is a member of the botanical family Colchicaceae, and is native to West Asia, Europe, parts of the Mediterranean coast, down the East African coast to South Africa and the Western Cape. In this genus the ovary of the flower is underground. As a consequence, the styles are extremely long in proportion, often more than 10 cm (4 in).

Common names[edit]

The common names "autumn crocus", "meadow saffron" and "naked lady" may be applied to the whole genus or to many of its species; they refer to the "naked" crocus-like flowers which appear in late summer or autumn, long before the strap-like foliage which appears in spring.


The scientific name comes from the Colchis, a region in Georgia (Caucasus) known by the Ancient Greeks by that name, and mentioned in the mythology as the destination of the Argonauts and the place of Medea and the golden fleece.


Colchicum melanthioides, also known as Androcymbium melanthioides,[3] is probably the best known species from the tropical regions. In contrast to most temperate colchicums the flower and leaves are produced at the same time, the white flowers are usually a small corymb which is enclosed by white bracts. Close relatives (such as Androcymbium scabromarginatum and Colchicum coloratum (Androcymbium burchellii)) have flowers with very short stalks and might be pollinated by rodents.[4]


Temperate colchicums are commonly grown in gardens as ornamental flowers. They include cultivars and hybrids such as:-

  • C. autumnale 'Alboplenum' (white)
  • C. autumnale 'Nancy Lindsay'agm[5] (mauve pink)
  • C. autumnale 'Pleniflorum' (red)
  • C. 'Dick Trotter' (violet with white centre)
  • C. 'Disraeli' (purple white),
  • C. 'Giant' (red with white centre)
  • C. 'Harlekijn' (white with purple band)
  • C. 'Lilac Wonder' (lilac)
  • C. 'Pink Goblet'agm[6] (violet-purple)
  • C. 'Poseidon' (purple)
  • C. 'Rosy Dawn'agm[7] (rose pink)
  • C. 'Violet Queen' (purple)
  • C. 'Waterlily'agm[8] (double, lilac-pink)

(Those marked agm have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit).

In the United Kingdom, the National Collection of colchicums is maintained at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Medicinal uses and poisonous properties[edit]

The plant contains the alkaloid colchicine which is used pharmaceutically to treat gout and Familial Mediterranean fever. The use of the roots and seeds in traditional medicine is thought to have arisen due to the presence of this drug.

Its leaves, corm and seeds are poisonous. Murderer Catherine Wilson is thought to have used it to poison a number of victims in the 19th century.


The following are the species included under Colchicum.[9] Many species previously classified under Androcymbium, Bulbocodium and Merendera were synonymized under Colchicum based on molecular genetic evidence,[10][11][12][13] Androcymbium is currently considered a separate genus.[14]


  1. ^ "WCSP". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Colchicum - Define Colchicum at". 
  3. ^ The Plant List, retrieved 27 May 2016 
  4. ^ Ciara Kleizen, Jeremy Midgley & Steven D. Johnson (2008). "Pollination systems of Colchicum (Colchicaceae) in Southern Africa: evidence for rodent pollination". Annals of Botany. 102 (5): 747–755. PMC 2712380Freely accessible. PMID 18723860. doi:10.1093/aob/mcn157. 
  5. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Colchicum autumnale 'Nancy Lindsay'". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Colchicum 'Pink Goblet'". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  7. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Colchicum 'Rosy Dawn'". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Colchicum 'Waterlily'". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "Search results — The Plant List". 
  10. ^ John Manning, Felix Forest and Annika Vinnersten (2007). "The genus Colchicum L. redefined to include Androcymbium Willd. based on molecular evidence". Taxon. 56 (3): 872–882. JSTOR 25065868. 
  11. ^ Karin Persson (2007). "Nomenclatural synopsis of the genus Colchicum (Colchicaceae), with some new species and combinations". Botanische Jahrbücher. 127 (2): 165–242. doi:10.1127/0006-8152/2007/0127-0165. 
  12. ^ Alberto del Hoyo, José Luis García-Marín & Joan Pedrola-Monfort (2009). "Temporal and spatial diversification of the African disjunct genus Androcymbium (Colchicaceae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 53 (3): 848–861. PMID 19699811. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.08.005. 
  13. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  14. ^ "WCSP". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Retrieved February 10, 2014.