Fragrance in Colchicum

Jane McGary
Wed, 24 Sep 2008 17:42:53 PDT
This afternoon I was looking at the colchicums in the bulb frame and 
noticed a sweet fragrance. It proved to emanate from a large-flowered one 
that I received originally under the name "Colchicum atropurpureum 'Drake's 
Form'." "C. atropurpureum" is a name that appears in Stearn's old 
monograph, but E. A. Bowles's discussion of it is both confused and 
confusing; he seems to mean that the name has been variously applied, and 
concludes that "there is no species to which it can be ascribed," although 
saying that it is close to C. turcicum -- an opinion repeated in 
Christopher Brickell's entry for it in the AGS Encyclopaedia of Alpines. I 
don't know which Drake found this form; perhaps it was the English 
nurseryman Jack Drake. Very likely it should just be called Colchicum 
'Drake's Form'.

Anyway, after noticing this naturally I went around sniffing colchicum 
flowers, and found no other with this particular honey scent. A few were 
slightly malodorous, and most had a faint, mildly pleasing scent that 
reminds me of a good-quality non-perfumed milled white face soap. C. 
speciosum hasn't opened here yet, but it is the parent of many garden 
hybrids, so I'll await its fragrance to see if that is where 'Drake's Form' 
got it.

Incidentally, while looking up "atropurpureum," I discovered that the name 
C. laetum has been applied to two different entities. The true species is 
small-flowered, and the large-flowered plant with many narrow-tepaled 
flowers, which is what I have here and have distributed, is something else 
-- one author says it is allied with C. byzantinum. So if you have C. 
laetum from me, it is C. laetum hort. (the abbreviation used to designate 
"taxonomic" names that are used in horticulture but not recognized in the 
botanical literature), and we must both continue trying to get the true 
species, while blaming the English and the Dutch, who have cast us into 
this confusion, though in the process providing us with some very beautiful 
garden flowers.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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