Colchicum autumnale, commonly known as autumn crocus, meadow saffron or naked ladies, is an autumn-blooming flowering plant 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 ladies" comes from the fact that the flowers emerge from the ground long after the leaves have died back. Despite the vernacular name of "meadow saffron", this plant is not the source of saffron, which is obtained from the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus – and that plant too is sometimes called "autumn crocus".
The species is commonly cultivated as an ornamental in temperate areas, in spite of its toxicity. The cultivar ‘Nancy Lindsay’ has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
It is a perennial herb with leaves up to 25 cm (10 in) long. The flowers are solitary, 4–7 cm (2–3 in) across, with six tepals and six stamens with orange anthers and three white styles.:324 At the time of fertilisation, the ovary is below ground.
Colchicum autumnale is the only species of its family native to Great Britain and Ireland, 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.
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.
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. This plant poses a particular threat to cats due to its colchicine and alkaloid content. The leaves and fruit of meadow saffron contain the highest level of toxins,[clarification needed] but all parts of the plant are regarded as poisonous.
Detail of flower at the United States Botanic Gardens
Colchicum autumnale Limana, (Valmorel), Italy
Colchicum autumnale in a meadow Lauterbourg, (Alsace), France
Colchicum autumnale by Auguste Faguet
- Linnaeus, Carl von. 1753. Species Plantarum 1: 341, Colchicum autumnale
- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Colchicum autumnale
- "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- A R Clapham, T G Tutin and E F Warburg, Flora of the British Isles, second edition, 1962, p 982
- Gajic. 1977. Glasnik prirodnaučkog museja u Beogradu, Serija B, Bioloake nauke Nauke 32: 8. Colchicum autumnale
- "RHS Plantfinder - Colchicum autumnale 'Nancy Lindsay'". Retrieved 12 January 2018.
- "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 22. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
- Blamey, M.; Fitter, R.; Fitter, A (2003). Wild flowers of Britain and Ireland: The Complete Guide to the British and Irish Flora. London: A & C Black. ISBN 978-1408179505.
- Parnell, J. and Curtis, T. 2012. Webb's An Irish Flora. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-185918-4783
- Clive Stace, New Flora of the British Isles 3rd edition 1991, p 855
- "Podlesek usoden za dve osebi". 24ur.com. April 6, 2018. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
- "PMeadow Saffron Poisoning in Cats". wagwalking.com. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
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