COMMON NAME: colchicum
GENUS: Colchicum
C. speciosum. C. autumnale
‘Alba’- white. C.a.  ‘Majus’- large.
C.a. ‘Minus’- dwarf form. C.a. ‘Roseum’- rose pink.
FAMILY: Liliaceae
TYPE: perennial
DESCRIPTION: The flowers are lavender, red, or rose colored. They resemble crocus blooms and can be either single or double forms. The blossoms appear in fall but the leaves don’t appear until spring and they die back by midsummer.
CULTIVATION: Plant the corms in late summer or early fall, as soon as they are available from a garden center. They should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep and 6 to 9 inches apart in sun or partial shade.
Additional plants can be obtained by digging the corms in midsummer when the leaves have died back, separating the corms, and replanting them immediately.
Many nicknames have been given to colchicum based on its similarity to crocus blossoms: autumn crocus, fall crocus, meadow crocus, and meadow saffron {referring to Crocus sativus, the source of saffron}. Names like naked ladies have been assigned to it because of its unusual growth pattern- flowers appearing without the leaves. Because the flowers seemed to bloom magically without help from green leaves, the names mysteria and wonder bulb were also given to colchicum.
The genus name, Colchicum, refers to Colchis, an ancient region on the Black Sea, where these flowers grew in great profusion. It was here that Greek mythology says Medea used her magical powers to restore youth to her favorites and poison her enemies with the roots of colchicum. Variations of this legend say that the colchicums grew where Medea spilled drops of a magic concoction, or that the plant is named for Medea herself who, like the colchicums, was beautiful but poisonous.
The corms of colchicums contain alkaloids and were well known for their poisonous properties. Slaves in Greece were said to have eaten just enough of the corms to cause themselves to be too sick to work but not sick enough to be dangerously ill. Sufficient quantities were thought to be lethal, and the powdered roots of colchicum mixed with alcoholic beverages, were given to many an unsuspecting victim. Discorides, an ancient Roman writer, said that it “killeth by choking” though it is “strangely alluring due to its pleasantness.” Bulbs from wild plants are thought to be more poisonous than those from cultivated varieties.
As with many other poisonous plants, correct amounts mixed with the right ingredients were effectively used for medicines. Colchicum corms have been used  to treat diseases since the time of the pharaohs. During the Renaissance, people often wore bulbs from this plant around their necks to ward off infection in times of plague. During medieval times, a concoction made from these flowers and water was used to improve a woman’s complexion. More recently, juice from the corms has been used to treat gout.
Linnaeus wrote of many uses of colchicum, including ridding men and animals of fleas, coloring Easter eggs, and dyeing fishing nets green.
Today botanists are excited about the potential of a drug called colchine that can be extracted from colchicum corms. This drug can change sterile hybrids to fertile ones, which could have a tremendous effect on plant breeding.