Spring crocuses are lovely. But did you know you can have fall crocuses too? The autumn crocus (Colchicum spp.) will give you déjà vu in a good way with its tiny goblets of bright pink, purple, or white blooming at ankle level when the smell of snow is in the air. The autumn crocus actually isn’t a crocus—it’s in the lily family, whereas crocuses are in the iris family—but it sure looks like one, except for its endearing habit of blooming in the fall instead of the spring. If you plant the corms in August, you’ll have colorful bouquets springing up before winter.
Common name: Autumn crocus, meadow saffron
Botanical name: Colchicum spp.
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 4 to 9, depending on species
Height: 4 to 12 inches
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Average
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or by division.
Pests and diseases
• Susceptible to gray mold and corm rot.
• Slugs and snails may be a problem.
• Autumn crocuses send up foliage in the spring, just like the familiar spring crocus. The foliage fades by summer, and the flower stalks rise in fall. Plant them where the yellowed leaves are hidden by summer flowers.
• Surround them with a low ground cover to help support the sometimes-weak flower stems.
• Though one of the common names is meadow saffron, do not confuse this plant with true saffron. All parts of the autumn crocus are very poisonous and can even be fatal.
• Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ has double pink flowers.
• Colchicum ‘Giant’, with pink-purple flowers, can grow 8 to 12 inches tall.
• C. autumnale ‘Album’ has white flowers.
All in the family
• Some sources put colchicums in the lily family (Liliaceae), and others put them in their own family, Colchicaceae. Another garden flower that some sources group into Colchicaceae is merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora), a native woodland ephemeral.
Where to buy
• American Meadows, Williston, VT, 877.309.7333, www.americanmeadows.com
• Odyssey Bulbs, South Lancaster, MA, 800-517-5152, www.odysseybulbs.com
• White Flower Farm, Litchfield, CT, 888-466-8849, www.whiteflowerfarm.com
(Photo of Colchicum byzantinum courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)