Colchicum (/ˈkɒlɪkəm/ KOL-chik-əm or /ˈkɒlkɪkəm/ KOL-kik-əm)[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). All species in the genus are toxic.[3]

Common names

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 that appear in late summer or autumn, long before the strap-like foliage which appears in spring.

Colchicum and Crocus look alike and can be confused by the casual observer. To add to the confusion, there are autumn-flowering species of crocus. However, colchicums have 3 styles and 6 stamens, while crocuses have 1 style supporting 3 long stigmas and 3 stamens.[4] In addition, the corm structures are quite different—in Colchicum, the corm is irregular, while in crocuses, the corm is like a flattened ball.[5] Crocus is in the iris family, Iridaceae.


The name of the genus derives from Κολχίς (Colchis), the Ancient Greek name for the region of კოლხეთი (Kolkhida) in modern Georgia (Caucasus). Colchis features in Greek mythology as the land to which the Argonauts journeyed in quest of the golden fleece and where Jason encountered Medea. The Greek toponym Colchis is thought by scholars to derive from the Urartian Qulḫa, pronounced "Kolcha" (guttural "ch" - as in Scots loch).[6]


Colchicum melanthioides, also known as Androcymbium melanthioides,[7] 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 usually in a small corymb that is enclosed by white bracts. Close relatives such as Colchicum scabromarginatum (Androcymbium scabromarginatum) and Colchicum coloratum (Androcymbium burchellii) have flowers with very short stalks and may be pollinated by rodents.[8]


Temperate colchicums are commonly grown in gardens as ornamental flowers. Species found in cultivation include:

There are also cultivars and hybrids such as:-

  • 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[9] (violet-purple)
  • C. 'Poseidon' (purple)
  • C. 'Rosy Dawn' agm[10] (rose pink)
  • C. 'Violet Queen' (purple)
  • C. 'Waterlily' agm[11] (double, lilac-pink)

Those marked agm have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (confirmed 2017).[12]

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

Medicinal uses and poisonous properties

Plants in this genus contain toxic amounts of the alkaloid colchicine which is used pharmaceutically to treat gout and Familial Mediterranean fever.[13] The use of the roots and seeds in traditional medicine is thought to have arisen due to the presence of this drug.[14]

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 species known to contain the most lethal amount of colchicine is C. autumnale.[15][16][17][18]


The following are the species included in the genus Colchicum.[19] Many species previously classified in Androcymbium, Bulbocodium and Merendera were moved to Colchicum based on molecular genetic evidence.[20][21][22][23] Androcymbium is currently considered a separate genus by some.[24]


  1. ^ "WCSP". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Retrieved February 10, 2014.
  2. ^ "Colchicum - Define Colchicum at".
  3. ^ Barceloux, Donald G. (2008). Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals. Wiley. pp. 693–702. ISBN 978-0471727613.
  4. ^ A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners, page 154
  5. ^ A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners, page 20, elsewhere
  6. ^ Lordkipanidze, O. (1991). Archeology in Georgia, Weinheim, 110.
  7. ^ The Plant List, retrieved 27 May 2016
  8. ^ 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. doi:10.1093/aob/mcn157. PMC 2712380. PMID 18723860.
  9. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Colchicum 'Pink Goblet'". Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  10. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Colchicum 'Rosy Dawn'". Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  11. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Colchicum 'Waterlily'". Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  12. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 22. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  13. ^ Amrollahi-Sharifabadi, Mohammad; Seghatoleslami, Ahmad; Amrollahi-Sharifabadi, Maryam; Bayani, Farajali; Mirjalili, Mahdi (December 2013). "Fatal Colchicine Poisoning by Accidental Ingestion of Colchicum persicum: A Case Report". American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology. 34 (4): 295–298. doi:10.1097/PAF.0000000000000059. PMID 24196723. S2CID 12811749.
  14. ^ Stuart, M. (1979). The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. Orbis Publishing London. ISBN 0-85613-067-2.
  15. ^ Huxley, A. (1992). The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. MacMillan Press. ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  16. ^ Frohne and Pfänder (1984). Colour Atlas of Poisonous Plants. Wolfe. ISBN 0723408394.
  17. ^ Stary, F. (1983). Poisonous Plants. Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-35666-3.
  18. ^ Altmann., H. (1980). Poisonous Plants and Animals. Chatto and Windus. ISBN 0-7011-2526-8.
  19. ^ "Search results — The Plant List".
  20. ^ 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. doi:10.2307/25065868. JSTOR 25065868.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.08.005. PMID 19699811.
  23. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  24. ^ "WCSP". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Retrieved February 10, 2014.
  25. ^ "Colchicum atropurpureum Stapf ex Stearn — The Plant List". Retrieved 2018-12-20.


  • Suite 101. Plants and Bulbs: Hardy Fall-Blooming Bulbs for Your Garden
  • Veseys: Information for gardeners
  • A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners, Bowles, E. A., D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1952
  • The European Garden Flora: A Manual for the Identification of Plants Cultivated in Europe, both Out-of-Doors and Under Glass, Volume 1, Walters, S. M., et al., editors, Cambridge University Press, 1984