Colchicums Sprouting in the Bag: New Garden

– Posted in: Colchicums, New House, New Gardens
17 comments

When we first started the process of buying our new house, I thought we’d be moving in August. In early July I started digging up colchicum corms as the leaves died down, indicating they were going dormant. It turns out the first date proposed for closing on a house is usually wildly optimistic, and my first opportunity to plant the corms in their new homes was Labor Day weekend–when it was raining.

Colchicums sprouting in bags

I dug these colchicums in early July, when they went dormant.

Long story short–I am still planting colchicums. It is disheartening to see them blooming in the bags. I’ve been told that it doesn’t hurt the plants in the longterm, as long as they get planted soon after. But it is a visual reminder that everything on my Moving To-Do list is not getting crossed off in a timely manner.

The weather has not been cooperating, but neither is the soil. This is what the native soil at the new place looks like:

clay soil in my new cold climate garden

The saturated clay soil is heavy and difficult to work with

The heavy clay is saturated from record-breaking rainfall in our area, making it hard to remove sod and weeds to plant these fall-blooming flowers. But this is exactly what the soil was like at our current home when we moved in over twenty years ago. It is much improved now, which gives me hope for the future. But it still makes it slow going now.

For the Plant Geeks Among Us: Colchicum Botanical Structures

The silver lining in this horticultural cloud is the opportunity to see how colchicums “work.” Compared to other bulbous plants, they have an odd structure–a foot–that extends below the base of the corm. You can see in the photo below that the primary flowering shoot emerges from this foot.

sprouting colchicum corm displaying foot

The primary flower stalk emerges from the foot of the colchicum corm.

In this next photo, you can see the dried up leaves from spring, one flower stalk emerging from the foot, and a second stalk emerging from the corm proper.
blooming colchicum corm with ovary and leaves labeled

The leaves are from this past spring. If the ovary is fertilized, the seed capsule will emerge with next spring's leaves.

The stalk, by the way, is not a stem, but a perianth tube. It is all part of the flower. The ovary of the flower is down there at the bottom of the foot, buried underground under normal growing conditions. If it gets fertilized and seeds develop, they will emerge the following year in the center of the foliage.
rose ovaries (hips) labeled

Rose ovaries--the hips--are right behind the blossom.

Compare that with rose ovaries, which are right behind the petals, and form what we call the hip. That’s where you’d normally expect to find the seeds in a typical flower, not buried in the ground, only to emerge six or more months later, as colchicum seeds do.

That’s one reason why I like colchicums. Besides being pretty, they are seriously weird.

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.

. . . the difference between great daffodils and common ones is not so vast as one thinks in the first flush of excitement when one starts being serious about daffodils.

~Henry Mitchell in The Essential Earthman: Henry Mitchell on Gardening

16 Comments… add one

Lisa March 23, 2012, 9:48 pm

I never knew what they were until today. I bought a house where the previous owners had lots of bulbs in pots. I dug around in them last summer and removed some oddly shaped bulbs and put them in a bag. I was going to plant them in the fall, like the rest of my bulbs. Then, one day I noticed they were growing! Not knowing they could do that dormant, I planted them in any available pot and planter. Then the strange (too me) flowers appeared, nothing I had seen before. Then they died back. Now those planters have leaves growing, and I thought it was something else I had planted, something that would soon have spring blooms. Now I know better!
They must be pretty tough to take the abuse I gave them! I don’t like them enough to leave them in the many planters I put them in. I have better uses for the space. Maybe I will try to replant them again when they die back.

Kathy Purdy March 23, 2012, 10:30 pm

I’m glad I helped you solve your mystery. You could probably remove them from the pots and plant them in the ground right now. They are good coming up through ajuga if you have any of that. If you have a bunch of shrubs, plant them where two shrubs meet. Or near any purple/black foliage.

Liza and Johns Garden November 6, 2011, 11:16 am

Colchicum are a tough little plant. Planted 50 of them two falls ago. As they came up and blossomed chipmunks ate the blossoms. Voles also had a feast. I think about 10 of them bloomed that year. this spring you could see that the voles had been enjoying themselves all winter. Did not give mush hope for any of them to survive. A lot of weeds, Grass and Colchicum came up during the summer. Pulled what I knew where weeds and left the rest alone. Early October most of the grasses died, now I know they where Colchicum’s. Had about 25 blossoms this fall so I guess the voles got the others.

Have a great day,
John

Kathy Purdy November 6, 2011, 2:41 pm

I have never heard of any rodent eating colchicums. They are supposed to be poisonous to rodents. Are you sure they weren’t autumn crocus? There are crocuses that bloom in the fall, as well as colchicums which are sometimes called crocus even though they are a different species.

commonweeder October 30, 2011, 10:35 am

Even the weather isn’t timely this year. We just had our first blizzard. Talk about Halloween tricks!

Cyndy October 24, 2011, 4:10 pm

Kathy, I too dug colchicums when I moved this summer, and they bloomed a little less profusely than normal. They’re so tough, I’m sure your premature bloomers will settle in nicely to bounce back next year.

Yael October 18, 2011, 12:08 pm

Kathy,
They are wierd, but so pretty in autumn. I’m about the only person in my area who doesn’t have them. Gotta get me some.

Yael

commonweeder October 7, 2011, 9:26 am

I loved this botanical lesson. I have been meaning to dig up my colchiums for years and move them to a better spot, but they are where it is difficult to dig in July. I’ll just have to be willing to allow a little damage. I will look more carefully at the whole dug plant now.

Kathy Purdy October 7, 2011, 8:19 pm

Pat, a lot of notable gardeners, such as North Hill gardeners Winterrowd and Eck, dig them up while they are blooming, divide and replant.

Suzanne October 7, 2011, 12:19 am

More pretty than weird!

Chiot's Run October 5, 2011, 7:24 am

I’ve always wondered what I’d dig up and take with me when I moved and what that would be like. Sad to leave the soil, hope to start anew.

I’ve been meaning to plan Colchicum in my garden for years, but have never seemed to get around to it, perhaps this will finally be the nudge I need.

Hope you’re settled and at home in your new house & garden soon.

Alistair October 3, 2011, 1:05 pm

So much interesting information on the colchicum, I will look at them in a new light from now on. Your lifting of plants for planting at your new house reminded me of six years ago when I lifted and divided 150 plants for this very reason and at the last moment took cold feet and decided against the move.

Dee/reddirtramblings October 2, 2011, 9:46 am

They are seriously cool and weird. Great info!~~Dee

Sam October 1, 2011, 4:08 pm

Love those pictures. Excellent work done. Weird is definitely better. ha-ha.

Carol October 1, 2011, 3:30 pm

Weird is good.

Gail October 1, 2011, 2:46 pm

Seriously weird and wonderful. The other piece of good news with fall arriving so fast you’ll have plenty of leaves to help build good soil over the winter. gail

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