Colchicum autumnale

Colchicum autumnale, commonly known as autumn crocus, meadow saffron[3] or naked ladies,[4] is a toxic autumn-blooming flowering plant that resembles the true crocuses, but is a member of the plant family Colchicaceae, unlike the true crocuses which belong to the family Iridaceae. The name "naked ladies" comes from the fact that the flowers emerge from the ground long before the leaves appear.[5] Despite the vernacular name of "meadow saffron", this plant is not the source of saffron, which is obtained from the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus – and that plant too is sometimes called "autumn crocus".

Colchicum autumnale
Illustration Colchicum autumnale0.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Colchicaceae
Genus: Colchicum
C. autumnale
Binomial name
Colchicum autumnale
Synonyms list
    • Colchicum commune Neck.
    • Bulbocodium antumnale (L.) Lapeyr.
    • Colchicum vernale Hoffm.
    • Colchicum vernum (Reichard) Georgi
    • Colchicum polyanthon Ker Gawl.
    • Colchicum praecox Spenn.
    • Colchicum crociflorum Sims
    • Colchicum orientale Friv. ex Kunth
    • Colchicum autumnale var. viridiflorum Opiz
    • Colchicum pannonicum Griseb. & Schenk
    • Colchicum transsilvanicum Schur
    • Colchicum turcicum subsp. pannonicum (Griseb. & Schenk) Nyman
    • Colchicum bulgaricum Velen.
    • Colchicum borisii Stef.
    • Colchicum vranjanum Adamovic ex Stef.
    • Colchicum doerfleri var. orientale Kitanov
    • Colchicum drenowskii Degen & Rech.f. ex Kitan.
    • Colchicum rhodopaeum Kov.

The species is cultivated as an ornamental in temperate areas, in spite of its toxicity. The cultivar ‘Nancy Lindsay’ has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.[6][7]


This herbaceous perennial has leaves up to 25 cm (10 in) long. The flowers are solitary, 4–7 cm (2–3 in) across, with six tepals and six stamens with orange anthers and three white styles.[8]:324 At the time of fertilisation, the ovary is below ground.[9]


Colchicum autumnale is the only species of its family native to Great Britain and Ireland,[10][9] with notable populations under the stewardship of the County Wildlife Trusts. It also occurs across mainland Europe from Portugal to Ukraine, and is reportedly naturalized in Denmark, Sweden, European Russia, the Baltic states and New Zealand.[2]

Pharmaceutical usesEdit

The bulb-like corms of C. autumnale contain colchicine, a useful drug with a narrow therapeutic index. Colchicine is approved in many countries for the treatment of gout and familial Mediterranean fever. Colchicine is also used in plant breeding to produce polyploid strains.


Colchicum plants are deadly poisonous due to their colchicine content and have been mistaken by foragers for ramsons, which they vaguely resemble.[11] The symptoms of colchicine poisoning are similar to those of arsenic, and no antidote is known.

This plant (and colchicine itself) poses a particular threat to felines. The leaves and fruit of meadow saffron contain the highest level of toxins,[clarification needed] but all parts of the plant are regarded as poisonous.[12]



  1. ^ Linnaeus, Carl von. 1753. Species Plantarum 1: 341, Colchicum autumnale
  2. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Colchicum autumnale
  3. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  4. ^ A R Clapham, T G Tutin and E F Warburg, Flora of the British Isles, second edition, 1962, p 982
  5. ^ Gajic. 1977. Glasnik prirodnaučkog museja u Beogradu, Serija B, Bioloake nauke Nauke 32: 8. Colchicum autumnale
  6. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Colchicum autumnale 'Nancy Lindsay'". Retrieved 12 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 22. Retrieved 24 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Blamey, M.; Fitter, R.; Fitter, A (2003). Wild flowers of Britain and Ireland: The Complete Guide to the British and Irish Flora. London: A & C Black. ISBN 978-1408179505.
  9. ^ a b Parnell, J. and Curtis, T. 2012. Webb's An Irish Flora. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-185918-4783
  10. ^ Clive Stace, New Flora of the British Isles 3rd edition 1991, p 855
  11. ^ "Podlesek usoden za dve osebi". April 6, 2018. Retrieved April 6, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ "Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Cats". Retrieved April 24, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

Further readingEdit