Colchicum Foliage

– Posted in: Colchicums, Plant info
7 comments

image of daffodil foliage in front of colchicum foliageHow could this happen? After explaining to Zoey in the comments of this post what colchicums were, I realized I had never shown what the foliage looks like. It’s not exactly breathtaking, so I don’t have many photos of it to share. I had to scan in this photo, which was taken in my very first spring here (1990). I’m sure I took it with the hopes that I might someday be able to identify the foliage. You can see one clump of strap-like daffodil leaves, which are about full height, and the broader leaves of the colchicum leaves behind them. This should give you an idea of the scale of the foliage. Keep in mind the flowers are about the size of crocus blossoms. (As with almost all images on this blog, click on the small photo to get a much bigger one.)

Now this second photo is a bit more interesting.image of colchicum seed podsI don’t often get to see this, myself. It is the seed pod of the colchicum flowers that bloomed the previous autumn. This is why one supposedly common name of colchicums is Sons-Before-the-Fathers. In a calendar year, the seeds show up before the flowers do. This is because the ovary, the seed forming part of the flower, is actually located at the base of the perianth tube, just underground. The peri-what? you ask. What looks like the stem of the flower is actually a tube of petal-like tissue, and the seed making parts of the flower that in a rose, for example, would be right below the blossom, are actually in the bulb underground. The ovary, now containing the seeds, is brought above ground in the spring when the leaves emerge. If I remember correctly (keep in mind the second-story renovation going on here–all my gardening books are packed away right now) the seeds have an aril, which ants like. The ants harvest the seeds for themselves and after they eat the aril, the seed germinates where the ants have stored it.

I have tried to grow colchicums from seed but didn’t get any to germinate. It is possible I harvested the seeds too early, but I see from this thread that plenty of experienced seed starters have had trouble as well, so I don’t feel too bad. There: more than you ever wanted to know about colchicums or even knew enough to ask. And by the way, Zoey, I have grown over two dozen varieties of colchicums. If you only saw 8, it probably means you missed the “Next Page” link, and didn’t see the remainder of the entries. The number after the category name shows how many entries are in that category.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

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Lisa@YourEasyGarden September 20, 2013, 12:15 pm

Thanks for the post and pics, Kathy! The visual helps a lot!

Rose May 15, 2010, 12:52 pm

Curiously, for the first time, I have 4 Colchicums (probably colchicum autumnale) with seed pods. There are a number of Colchicums in my garden but only these four, located in the same bed, have seed pods. I’m wondering what encourages their formation…weather, plant age? Anyway, curious enough for a bunch of gardeners to gather to view them…

Kathy Purdy May 15, 2010, 12:59 pm

I don’t know what promotes seed formation in colchicums, but this is indeed the time of year to find seed pods if there are going to be any. I’m glad you have friends who find that interesting. I think I’m going to go look at my colchicum foliage to see if I have any this year.

Kathy Purdy September 18, 2005, 1:02 pm

I’m sure it depends on climate–and on personal taste. I don’t have problems with its appearance, though I do take care not to plant colchicums next to something that could get smothered when the foliage leans over. But I gave some corms to my neighbor and the dying foliage drove her husband nuts. He found it very unsightly. The real difficulty is that the flowers are much smaller than the foliage. Normally I would plant bulbs with such tall foliage in the back, so that as the leaves decayed they would be obscured by other plants growing up. But the colchicum flowers are so much shorter they would get lost in the back of a typical border. It’s mostly something you have to be aware of, but shouldn’t deter most people from planting–and enjoying–colchicums.

Chan S. September 17, 2005, 3:09 pm

I enjoyed the colchicum foliage this spring. I was a little wary of what to expect, because I’d read so many complaints in gardening books about how prominent the foliage is and how long it takes to yellow and go dormant…but it reminded me of an Olympic torch, very graceful and statuesque. I’ll try to remember to take and post photos next spring.