Colchicum autumnale

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Colchicum autumnale
Illustration Colchicum autumnale0.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Colchicaceae
Genus: Colchicum
Species: C. autumnale
Binomial name
Colchicum autumnale
  • Colchicum commune Neck.
  • Bulbocodium antumnale (L.) Lapeyr.
  • Colchicum vernale Hoffm.
  • Colchicum vernum (Reichard) Georgi
  • Colchicum polyanthon Ker Gawl.
  • Colchicum praecox Spenn.
  • Colchicum crociflorum Sims
  • Colchicum orientale Friv. ex Kunth
  • Colchicum autumnale var. viridiflorum Opiz
  • Colchicum pannonicum Griseb. & Schenk
  • Colchicum transsilvanicum Schur
  • Colchicum turcicum subsp. pannonicum (Griseb. & Schenk) Nyman
  • Colchicum bulgaricum Velen.
  • Colchicum borisii Stef.
  • Colchicum vranjanum Adamovic ex Stef.
  • Colchicum doerfleri var. orientale Kitanov
  • Colchicum drenowskii Degen & Rech.f. ex Kitan.
  • Colchicum rhodopaeum Kov.

Colchicum autumnale, commonly known as autumn crocus, meadow saffron[3] or naked lady, is an autumn-blooming flower that resembles the true crocuses, but is a member of the Colchicaceae plant family, unlike the true crocuses which belong to the Iridaceae family. The name "naked lady" comes from the fact that the flowers emerge from the ground long after the leaves have died back.[4]

The species is commonly cultivated as an ornamental in temperate areas, in spite of its toxicity.


Colchicum autumnale is the only species of its genus native to the Great Britain and Ireland,[5][6] with notable populations under the stewardship of the County Wildlife Trusts. It also occurs across mainland Europe from Portugal to Ukraine, and is reportedly naturalized in Denmark, Sweden, European Russia, the Baltic States and New Zealand.[2]

Pharmaceutical uses[edit]

The bulb-like corms of Colchicum autumnale contain colchicine, a useful drug with a narrow therapeutic index. Colchicine is approved by the US FDA for the treatment of gout and familial Mediterranean fever. Colchicine is also used in plant breeding to produce polyploid strains. A synthetic chemical compound, called ICT2588, which is similar to one from the autumn crocus, is in the early stages of drug development for the treatment of some types of cancer. In experimental testing it was successfully used to treat breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancers in mice when used in combination with the drug doxorubicin.[7][8]


Colchicum plants are deadly poisonous due to their colchicine content, and have been mistaken by foragers for ramsons, which they vaguely resemble. The symptoms of colchicine poisoning resemble those of arsenic, and no antidote is known.



  1. ^ Linnaeus, Carl von. 1753. Species Plantarum 1: 341, Colchicum autumnale
  2. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Colchicum autumnale
  3. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17. 
  4. ^ Gajic. 1977. Glasnik prirodnaučkog museja u Beogradu, Serija B, Bioloake nauke Nauke 32: 8. Colchicum autumnale
  5. ^ Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and Warburg, E.F. 1968. Excursion Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-04656-4
  6. ^ Parnell, J. and Curtis, T. 2012. Webb's An Irish Flora. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-185918-4783
  7. ^ Battison, Leila (2011-09-12). "BBC News - British flowers are the source of a new cancer drug". Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  8. ^ Atkinson, Jennifer M.; Falconer, Robert A.; Edwards, Dylan R.; Pennington, Caroline J.; Siller, Catherine S.; Shnyder, Steven D.; Bibby, Michael C.; Patterson, Laurence H.; et al. (2010). "Development of a Novel Tumor-Targeted Vascular Disrupting Agent Activated by Membrane-Type Matrix Metalloproteinases". Cancer Research. 70 (17): 6902–12. doi:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-10-1440. PMC 2933508Freely accessible. PMID 20663911. 

Further reading[edit]