Autumn Crocus-Fall Super Star

A bulb that blooms in the fall? I get a lot of puzzled looks when I try to explain Autumn Crocus or Meadow saffron. Not really a crocus, but actually in the lily family, it resembles the spring flowering crocus but the flowers are larger and chalice-shaped instead of stiffly upright.

Purple Autumn Crocus  Colchicum atropurpureum

The similarity to a crocus leads to many confused people who see it and think it is a crocus out of sync, and blooming in the wrong season. An under-used bulb, Autumn Crocus deserves more recognition.

My Autumn Crocus is blooming with my heucheras

Many of my photos in this post were taken in September in Scotland, as you rarely see them grown here. But they can be grown quite successfully here, just as well as the UK, and I have grown them here in the mid-Atlantic for years.

Naturalized in the lawn in Scotland

Originating in Europe, its life cycle is quite unusual. Appearing in Autumn popping out of the ground like magic almost overnight, you forget that you have planted it, and then when it appears, you are quite excited. Appearing without any foliage, it is all flower with no obscuring leaves and is quite beautiful in garden beds or naturalized in the lawn.

Popping up in the lawn

Blooms lasting for 2 to 3 weeks and then lying dormant until the following spring, foot-long strappy leaves appear and remain until early summer. They can get tattered and ugly looking and I just snap them off and forget about them. After summer hibernation, the Autumn Crocus bloom emerges in a profusion of multi-petalled flowers for a show of color, when not much is happening in the garden, and you are hungry for some color. Fitting in quite well with the asters and chrysanthemums of the fall garden, they also come up the same time as fall cyclamens, another adorable fall blooming corm.

Autumn Crocus blooming with Fall Cyclamen at Falkland Palace in Scotland
Plant them where they can peek out under shrubs
Sometimes the corm pops out of the ground and I just push it back in while flowering

Easy as Pie to Grow

Developing from a corm (small bulb), you plant them in late summer or early fall about 2-3 inches deep in full sun to partial shade. The delicate flowers should be protected from wind, so I grow them among shrubs and perennials. Maintenance free, there are several varieties of Autumn Crocus in white, dark purple, and lavender pink. ‘Waterlily’ is a lovely mauve lilac with double petals.

Waterlily Colchicum

Downside

The only downside to this bulb is price. They can set you back from $4 to $8 a bulb depending on supplier and variety. The doubles like ‘Waterlily’ are always more expensive. But I have invested in buying half a dozen a season now, and have a nice little stand of them as they multiply quite readily. And did I mention that deer and bunnies rarely bother them? Another reason to order some for planting this fall.

Varieties

Violet flowering ‘Autumn Queen’ ‘Giant’ with white and mauve blooms

‘Waterlily’ with unique lilac double petals

“Lilac Wonder’ with lilac pink blooms Purplish mauve

‘Violet Queen’ with a white center

‘Albus’ a pure white

Colchicum Albus

Saffron Crocus

The stigmas (orange filaments)are dried for saffron

Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus), another fall Crocus, creates jewel-toned flowers in the fall garden in only 6-10 weeks (sometimes as little as 4-6 weeks) after being planted.  Planted in zones 6-10, you can plant them in your garden beds, in containers, or even indoors. Harvesting the orange fuzzy stigmas of the saffron crocus is easy and you just snip them off and dry them on paper towels and use in your favorite dishes.

The ultimate saffron dish-paella!

When To Plant Saffron Crocus Bulbs

Make sure to plant Saffron Crocus bulbs at least 6 weeks before chance of frost. The bulbs (corms) don’t store well and should be planted soon after you receive them. I just planted mine in the garden and expect to harvest the saffron threads in a couple of weeks.

Buying bulbs of Saffron Crocus

If mulched well, Saffron Crocus can be winter hardy to USDA zone 6.

The Saffron Crocus does well in dappled shade
Saffron Crocus is a lovely lavender shade

 

 

2 Replies to “Autumn Crocus-Fall Super Star”

  1. Once again you have found fun, interesting plants to tell us about! I hope I can find the pumpkins on a stick at a local farmers market. If not, off to Trader Joe’s in Annapolis!
    Are Autumn Crocus only a mail order item?

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