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Colchicum Autumnale

Updated on April 15, 2011

The autumn crocuses (Colchicum autumnale scientific name - Carl von Linné, 1753) is a small herbaceous plant from autumn showy pink-purple flowers in the family Colchicaceae. It has herbal properties.



Thanks to its unusual flowering (autumn), and then will locate the "crocuses" is a plant known since ancient times. In fact, the term colchicum (in ancient greek = kolchikòn) is related etymologically to the ancient Colchis (a kingdom on the Black Sea in Asia Caucasus). This name is already in the medical treatises of Dioscorides platform (Anazarbe in Cilicia, about 40 - about 90) who was a physician, pharmacist and botanist who practiced in Rome ancient greek at the time of Emperor Nero and Galen of Pergamon (129 - 216) which was an ancient greek physician Hellenist. Name that was filmed for the first time in modern times by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (5 giugno1656-December 28, 1708) and firmly established as a genre in 1737 by Linnaeus.


The specific name (autumnale) is obviously related to flowering.


The currently accepted scientific binomial (Colchicum autumnale) was proposed by Carl von Linné (Rashult, May 23, 1707, Uppsala, January 10, 1778), Swedish biologist and writer, considered the father of modern scientific classification of living organisms in the publication of Species Plantarum 1753.


German Herbstzeitlose this plant is called, in French is called Colchique d'automne; in English is called Meadow Saffron or Autumn Crocus.



The Colchicum autumnale is a bulbous plant glabra and whose height varies from 10 to 40 cm (minimum 5 cm). The organic form is bulbous geophytes (G bulb), which is a perennial herb that brings the buds in place underground. During the season, no adverse air bodies and the gems are found in underground organs like bulbs, reserve organs that annually produce new stems, leaves and flowers.




The roots are fibrous (sorted by type) and leave the side of a bulb-tuber oblong (pyriform or ellipsoid) located very deeply in the soil (10-15 cm). In reality it is more precisely a tuber that has a solid consistency, wrapped in robes of dried brownish color (the remains of the tubers in previous years). Below this, in one of its sides is a characteristic extension. This tuber in late summer (or early autumn) form the flower bud which then will form the flower itself, leaving the following spring is mandated to give the leaves with the fruit at the same time will form a new tuber a basal internode. Bulb size: diameter 3 cm, height 4-7 cm.




The stem is virtually absent: the leaves and flowers grow directly from the root tuber (tuber can be seen as the underground stem).




The leaves are radical, embracing and erect. The insertion of the leaf is coiled in the tuber and tiles. The shape is lanceolate acute-wave behavior with many nerves arranged longitudinally parallel to the leaf and then. The color is bright green on both sides and the texture is quite meaty. The large leaves are large 4-7 cm long and 15 to 26 cm (ie 3 - 5 times longer than wide).




The inflorescence is usually formed by a single large flower at the base with a long thin tube that portion of the apex is expanded into six segments. Other flowers (up to 7 - usually 1 to 3) can sprout from the same bulb but at a later time. This inflorescence is devoid of leaves (which will sprout the following spring). The tube is always white (almost colorless) color independent of perigonium, while the shape of the flower is that of a long narrow glass that soon fades and opens like a fan. At the base of the flower is a hyaline spathe (the papery), mucronata, whose margins are widened in membranous wings and wraps around the flower for 1 to 3 cm. Perigonium tube length: 10 to 20 cm.




The flowers are hermaphrodite, actinomorphic, penta-cyclic (ie consist of five overlapping whorls: perigonium with two whorls of three tepals each, androecium with two whorls of stamens, each in the most central and the last whorl, the harem), trimers (each whorl consists of three elements). Width of the flower 30 to 80 mm.


·         Floral formula:

                          P 3 +3, A 3 +3, G (3) excess


·         Perigonium: the perigonium consists of six tepals equal (or poorly differentiated). The color varies from white to pinkish-lilac to purple (and therefore tepaloidi, ie similar to the petals for their function standard-bearer). The tepals are broad external 9 to 13 mm.


·         Androecium: stamens are six (3 + 3) inserted inside the perigonium. Three are larger, but more slender filaments. The anthers are yellow. Stem length of the filaments: the longer 15 mm shorter than 10 mm. Length of anthers 5 mm.


·         Gynoecium: the ovary excess, formed by three carpels, has three lodges with many seeds. Styles are three, free and erect from the base up and emerge from the stamens. The stamens are elongated, clavate, curved hook, the texture is papillosa. Length of styles from 20 to 25 mm. Size of the stigmata from 2 to 2.5 mm.


·         Flowering: The flowering period is from August to October, while the leaves are released in the spring (along with the fruiting).


·         Pollination: pollination by insects are bees and flies. The nectar at the base of the tepals, at the insertion of the stamens.




The fruiting occurs in May-June, but flowering is related to the previous year. Insecticides is a capsule, oblong-ovate, acute apex that proceeds from the land together with new leaves. The seeds are globular and blackish. The dissemination of these seeds is favored by some sticky substance present outside them: so the seeds stick to birds' feet to pass. Dish size: width 20 to 27 mm, length 34 to 55 mm.

Distribution and habitat


·         Geoelemento: type chorological (source region) and Central - Europe.


·         Distribution: on Italian soil this plant is common in the north and rare northern Apennines. Outside Italy, the 'autumn crocuses' is common in central and southern (not present on the Dinaric Alps) as well as in North Africa and the Caucasus.


·         Habitat: soils preferred by these plants are grassland (lawns mowed) grassland well supplied with fresh streams and forest clearings. In general, these plants live in colonies. On the reliefs attend shaved Alpine and subalpine meadows. The preferred substrate is limestone that is acidic at neutral pH, average nutritional value of the land should be medium moist.


·         Altitudinal spread: measurements on these plants can be found up to 2100 m above sea level, and then attend the following plans vegetation: hilly, mountainous and subalpine.




Substances: plants are poisonous because they contain colchicine, a highly toxic alkaloid (between the different effects prevents the formation of the mitotic spindle in cells and promotes polyploidy) contained primarily in the seeds of the plant, but also in the bulb. If ingested, causes burning sensation in the mouth, nausea, stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, delirium and death, sometimes the only manipulation of the flower can cause skin damage. This substance is also known as "arsenic plant." In addition all'alcaloide described, these plants contain other substances such as Colchicoside, various fats, gums, resins, tannin, gallic acid and oil.


Healing properties: these plants are used in traditional medicine is that the modern view of their anticancer, analgesic (reduces pain), antipyretic (lowers body temperature), gout, emetic (useful in case of poisoning because it causes vomiting ) and more. In the past it was believed that the juice of the bulb of the flower, mixed with saltpeter, it was useful to treat arthritis and gout. The plant was also used in alchemical practices, as it was thought that could help achieve the ether.


Parts Used: seeds and tubers with which you can make the fluid extracts or tinctures.




Easily this plant is found in gardens or rustic mountain to the delicate beauty of its flowers. It is also used for the growing season: in autumn, when most of the flowers have already made their cycle. Horticultural versions (or cultivars) flowers can have different colors from the spontaneous species, or may be mottled or even double flowers. These plants should be placed in fairly rich soil, sunny and not too dry. The dormant bulbs resist quite well even at temperatures of about -20 ° C and should be placed at about 70-10 cm deep in summer (July). They propagate by seed and require on average 4 to 5 years to reach maturity ..


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    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Most interesting! I'd love to grow some... too bad I have a black thumb T___T

    • daffodil2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      pamela99 thanks for your comments

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a very thorough hub and I have always thought crocuses were so cute as they sometimes poke through the snow in the spring. They are so colorful also. Rated up.


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