H. Perennial & Old Fashioned Garden Plants & Flowers by John Wood
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Colchicum Autumnale - Hardy Perennial
Author: John Wood
Colchicum Autumnale Described.
Colchicum Autumnale - Meadow Saffron; Common Name, Autumnal Crocus; Nat. Ord. Melanthaceæ.
A native bulbous perennial. The Colchicums are often confounded with the autumn-flowering species of croci, which they much resemble when in bloom; the similarity is the more marked by the absence, from both, of their leaves in that season, otherwise the leaves would prove to be the clearest mark of difference. Botanically they are far removed from each other, being of different orders, but there is no need to go into such distinctions, not, at any rate, in this case.
The flowers are well known and they need not be described further than by saying they are in form crocus-like, but much longer in the tubes and of a bright mauve-purple colour. The bulbs have no resemblance to the crocus whatever, being often four times the size of the crocus corms. Moreover, they are pear-shaped and covered with flaky wrappers of a chestnut brown colour; if examined, these coverings will be found, near the neck of the bulb, to be very numerous and slack fitting, extending above the ground, where they have the form of decayed or blackened foliage; a singular fact in connection with the roots is, they are not emitted from the base of the bulb, but from the side of the thickened or ovate part, and are short and tufty. In early spring the leaves, which are somewhat like the daffodil, but much broader and sheathed, are quickly grown; at the same time the fruit appears. In summer the foliage suddenly turns brown, and in the autumn nothing is seen but blackened foliage, which is very persistent, and which, a little later, acts as sheaths for the long-tubed flowers. Unless the weather be very unfavourable, these flowers last a long time—fully two weeks. The double variety, which is somewhat scarce, is even more lasting, and I may add, it is a form and colour so softly and richly shaded that it is nothing short of exquisite; but the single variety, now more especially under notice, is also capable of agreeably surprising its friends when used in certain ways, for instance, as follows: A tray of the bright green and nearly transparent selaginella, so common in all greenhouses, should form the ground for twos or threes of these simple but elegant Saffron flowers; no other should be placed near—their simplicity forms their charm. It will be seen that the robust but soft-coloured flower of the meadows harmonises finely with the more delicately grown moss. In other ways this fine autumnal flower may be used with pleasing effect in a cut state, and it blends well with the more choice exotics. This is more than can be said of many hardy flowers, and it is fortunate that during dull weather, when we are driven from our gardens, there are still some flowers which may be hastily gathered and so arranged indoors as to give us all the pleasure which only such flowers can yield at such a season.
I find this subject to do well in any situation, but I think the blooms are a richer colour if grown under partial shade. The bulbs should not be disturbed if abundance of flowers are wanted; but if it is found desirable to propagate them, the bulbs may be lifted every two or three years, when the tops have withered, and when there will probably be found a goodly crop of young tubers.
Flowering period, September and October.
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