Colchicum in bloom

Jim McKenney
Thu, 15 Sep 2005 10:26:56 PDT
A warning for those of you who are trying to grow Colchicum in the sour,
damp, summer-warm soils of the east coast of North America: they will rot
during the summer. 

They'll be fine if you can keep the soil reasonable dry or if the site is
well drained and the soil itself is readily permeable. But warm, damp, small
particle soils are a death trap for them. 

I know of no extensive, established, perennial plantings of Colchicum here
in the Washington, D.C. area.  There are certain sites in my garden where
some persist without help. Some cultivars are more tolerant of our
conditions than others, and might form the basis of such permanent
plantings. Two which in my experience persist are the plant widely marketed
as Giant or The Giant (although it does not agree with my reading of Bowles'
description of that cultivar) and another which I received as C. byzantinum
(but it is not the true byzantinum). Even these will not make it if planted
in the fusarium pit (thank you, Vicky B, for that metaphor). 

Jane mentioned that slugs will eat the flowers and leaves. Here, they also
eat the corms. Any corm left on the surface of the ground is soon gouged.
Furthermore, the slugs use the convenient tube formed by the dried foliage
bundle to get down to the dormant corms. 

So unless your pockets are deep and you don't mind replacing your plants
often, these are hardly carefree plants in our climate. 

I grow those Colchicum I have in short supply in a raised bed which is
covered with a glass pane during the summer. This works well. Any extras go
into the garden, where they typically gradually disappear. 

Mary Sue's photos of Colchicum speciosum 'Album' prompt some comments.
Notice that the tepals of the flowers in those photographs are still in
"tulip formation". That is the way one often seed this plant illustrated in
books, and it's a very good look. It's much hotter here in Maryland, and
when this plant first bloomed here years ago I was very disappointed. Why?
Because the flowers did not look anything like those I had seen in books. In
fact, the flowers looked like a white-flowered version of the big cultivar
Lilac Wonder. The tepals were spread out flat, and that emphasized their
narrow, strap like shape - and it made the flowers look more like a starfish
that a tulip. You have to get up early in the morning here in Maryland to
see the "tulip formation" - the blooms here quickly open out flat. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the early Colchicum are

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