A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Colchicum spp. (Autumn Crocuses)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Late September brings the surprising blooms of the autumn crocus (Colchicum spp.). Large and pink (or white, in some selections), they seem to pop up from the ground with little warning. They may be spotted in various places around the garden during the next few days. Look for them along the edge of the Lower Lawn as you walk from the Perkins Visitor Center to Wave Hill House, and up in the Wild Garden, as these first two shots show.lower-lawn

wild_gardenDespite their common name, the autumn crocuses are not true crocuses, and they are distinguished by their lack of any foliage at flowering time (early autumn). Some species of true crocus (Crocus spp.) will bloom in fall, too—notably Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus—but their flowers are generally smaller and are attended by narrow, grass-like leaves.close-up

The leaves of the autumn crocus are large and strap-like and emerge in spring. They are prone to being cut back by the tidy-minded gardener but really should be left unmolested until they have died back in midsummer. Cutting this foliage early will weaken the plant and will result in a poor show of bloom later.

Several species of autumn crocus exist, including Colchicum speciosum, of which there are pink and white selections, and C. autumnale, mostly in the pink to lilac-pink range of colors.

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