Colchicum Family – Colchicaceae

A Monocot family of 15 genera and 285 species which includes the genus Colchicum with 160 species.The family is named after the genus Colchicum, based on the province of Colchis in Georgia near the Black Sea where the plants are common The genus is native to Europe, western Asia and North, East and South Africa. The Meadow Saffron Colchicum autumnale, shown below, is native to Britain where it grows in damp meadows and woods. There are many species, hybrids and varieties grown in gardens as ornamental flowers. Most are pink but some, such as Colchicum autumnale Alba are white. Colchicums are often confused with Autumn-flowering Crocuses in the Iris family but they can easily be differentiated because they have 6 anthers not 3 and 3 styles not 1. They grow from rhizomes or corms. Basic Flower Parts – 6 tepals , 6 Stamens, 1 three-lobed style.

meadow saffron colchicum autumnale

Meadow Saffron Colchicum autumnale. The flowers appear in autumn but the leaves appear in spring.  The ovary is at the bottom of the white tube (perianth tube) that supports the flower and is below ground level until the leaves appear in spring. As the leaves appear they bear the ovary up and the seeds ripen in the summer. The Colchicums look like Crocuses but are not related. Photo taken in September. Grows from an underground corm.

colchicum flower

Close-up photo of an unknown Colchicum  was taken in August.Each flower has 6 tepals, 6 yellow anthers and 3 white styles. Pollinated primarily by bees, Colchicums are a source of pollen and nectar, which is secreted at the base of the stamens.

meadow saffron flower

Close-up photo of a Meadow Saffron. Colchicums are protogynous – stigma receptive first. In this photo the styles are clearly longer than the stamens and so the stigmas will contact the pollinator first.