Colchicum questions
Tue, 31 May 2005 14:22:52 PDT
My comments on some of these questions follow. I've been growing colchicums
for over 20 years, mostly the robust hybrids and commercial clones of the
species, but they are a very confusing bunch, complicated by rampant
misnaming in the trade and confusion in the literature. Many so-called
species in cultivation are clones of hybrid or uncertain origin: C.
agrippinum (hybrid), C. atropurpureum (dubious provenance), C. byzantinum
(hybrid), C. pannonicum (dubious provenance) and C. tenorii (dubious
provenance) immediately spring to mind. As with most bulbs, it is the
rapidly multiplying clones that have made it into wider cultivation. My
knowledge of the smaller species is poor.

Botanically they are very awkward brutes to deal with, in most cases
flowering long before the leaves so the collector visiting Greece in autumn
may collect the flowers but not the leaves - and vice versa in spring. This
somewhat explains the synonymy of C. bivonae (C. sibthorpii, C.
bowlesianum), for example. Not to mention the problems involved in
extracting, then pressing a corm: and one needs to see the whole shoot, not
just detached flowers, to see how it fits together. Only by cultivating
carefully documented material can one ever hope to see and record the entire
growth cycle. The monograph by Karin Persson from Sweden is mentioned
occasionally, but never seems to get beyond that stage, alas.

> 3. Colchicum major I can't find, but I can find Colchicum autumnale
> 'Major'. Is there a species major or is this a cultivar of another species
> and should be moved?
> ANSWER: I haven't seen this as a valid name anywhere. The pictured plant
> could be C. autumnale, which is described as "occasionally tessellated."
Anyone else know of a C. major or think that Arnold's picture is of
> Colchicum autumnale 'Major'?

C. autumnale 'Major', as Jim McKenney has mentioned, is a trade name for C.
byzantinum, and the plant illustrated is the typical broad-segmented clone
of that ancient hybrid, sent from Constantinople to Vienna in 1588. The
crooked purple styles are the giveaway feature. The plant labelled on the
wiki as C. byzantinum is not correct, but insufficient detail is visible to
enable an identification.

There is another clone that fits the general description of C. byzantinum
but has much narrower segments: it is in the trade as C. laetum (but that is
really a different species, obtainable from Janis Ruksans in Latvia and
correctly illustrated on the wiki).


> 4. Colchicum pannonicum has a note written next to it by Jim McKenney I
> suspect saying that this plant is now regarded as a clonal selection of C.
> autumnale and has the cultivar name 'Nancy Lindsay'. Should we change it
> is that note sufficient?
> ANSWER: I would leave the note, because apparently there are several of
> these purple-tubed C. autumnale forms around, and I'm told the form is
> common in the wild in certain areas. Probably not all such plants are the
> clone 'Nancy Lindsay', though many of them probably are.
 From Arnold: "C. pannonicum named for Pannonia which is an ancient name
> for  what is now part Hungary. Mathew say in his Bulb Newsletter that it
> "so similar that they could be part of the same clone as 'Nancy Lindsay'.
> He also says it is a 'plant very much like C. autumnale'  Chris Brickell,
> in his account of Colchicum for Flora Europaea, decided to sink the
> into C. autumanale.
> Mathew says " So,  unless new field studies of the colchicums in this area
> indicate otherwise, the situation is that the excellent plant which is
> being distributed as C. pannonicum appears to be a very nice color variant
> of the very widespread C. autumnale."

A very difficult question. 'Nancy Lindsay' is to my mind one of the best
Colchicums, being vigorous and easy to grow, producing masses of shapely and
proportionate flowers that are richly coloured. Its origins are very
unclear: Nancy Lindsay was a great gardener (anything with her name attached
is a GOOD plant!) but many of her provenances do not ring true. She became a
hard-up nurserywoman and was prone to exaggerate plants' charms and merits;
it is tempting to think she enhanced their origins as well. A stock of
Galanthus elwesii and the wonderful Arum italicum 'Nancy Lindsay' were both
said to have come from her 1930s motoring trip around 'Persia', but neither
grows there! Her colchicum is clearly an excellent clone of C. autumnale,
but I would be tempted to avoid the question and call it, perfectly
legitimately , Colchicum 'Nancy Lindsay'.
> >
> 5. Colchicum sibthorpii my sources say should be C. bivonae. Would you
> at Arnold's pictures and let me know if they need to be renamed.

Seems to be OK, but I have bought the tessellated hybrid 'Autumn Queen' in
the past as C. sibthorpii and the 'error' could recur.

John Grimshaw

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