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Meadow Saffron

Colchicum autumnale

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Colchicaceae (Autumn Crocus)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
10 centimetres tall
Gardens, grassland, meadows, woodland.

Variable in colour, 6 petals
Pinkish purple Crocus-like flowers but actually in its own family. 6 stamens, orange anthers, white styles, pale stalks. Up to 4.5cm wide.
Long and linear grass-like leaves with a whitish midrib. The leaves normally die back before the flowers appear. Leaf blades grow up to 30cm long.
Other Names:
Autumn Crocus, Bare Naked Ladies, Crocus, Naked Ladies.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Colchicum autumnale, also known as autumn crocus or meadow saffron, is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It is known for its beautiful, large, pink, lilac or white flowers that bloom in autumn, hence the name "autumn crocus". It has long, narrow leaves that appear after the flowers have bloomed and die down by the summer. The plant is poisonous, especially the bulbs, and contains colchicine which has medicinal uses but it is toxic if ingested in large amounts. It's most commonly used as an ornamental plant due to its showy flowers. It is also known for its ability to grow well in shady areas and it's drought tolerance.


Meadow Saffron: A Beautifully Bizarre Flower of Autumn

Meadow saffron, also known as Colchicum autumnale, is a unique and fascinating flower that blooms in the autumn season. Despite its name, it is not related to true saffrons but has been referred to as such due to the deep red and purple colors of its blooms. Native to Europe and Asia, it can be found growing in damp meadows, woodlands and along river banks.

One of the most unusual aspects of Meadow saffron is its life cycle. Unlike most flowering plants, it does not produce leaves and flowers at the same time. Instead, its leaves emerge in the spring, grow throughout the summer and then wither away, leaving behind nothing but a bulb. Then, in the autumn, the naked stems shoot up from the ground, each bearing a single flower. This makes for a striking contrast in the landscape as the flowers are often surrounded by green meadows and forests.

The flowers of Meadow saffron are truly remarkable, each bloom can be up to 8 cm in diameter and consists of six petals that form a star shape. They are a deep red or purple color and have a slightly spicy fragrance that can be detected from a distance. The center of the flower is filled with yellow anthers and the stamen, giving the flower an eye-catching contrast.

While Meadow saffron is a beautiful plant, it is also highly toxic. All parts of the plant contain colchicine, a toxic alkaloid that can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and even death if ingested. Despite this, the plant has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The ancient Greeks used colchicine to treat gout, and it is still used today as a treatment for various forms of arthritis.

Meadow saffron is a truly unique and beautiful plant that adds a touch of mystery and magic to the autumn landscape. Despite its toxicity, it has a long history of medicinal use and is a fascinating example of the diverse and interesting world of plants. If you have the opportunity to see Meadow saffron in the wild, take a moment to appreciate the beauty and strangeness of this amazing flower.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Meadow saffron has also been used as a source of yellow dye. The flowers and leaves were used to produce a yellow dye for wool, which was highly prized in the medieval period. The plant's bulbs have also been used as a food source in some cultures. However, due to their toxicity, they must be prepared carefully to remove the colchicine before they can be consumed.

In gardens, Meadow saffron can be a great addition to woodland or naturalistic plantings. It is best grown in a moist, well-drained soil in dappled shade. Its leaves should be allowed to grow undisturbed in the spring and summer, and then it can be divided in the autumn, when the flowers are in bloom. It can also be propagated by seed, but it is a slow-growing plant that takes several years to reach maturity.

Despite its beauty, Meadow saffron is considered an invasive species in some areas. This is because the seeds are dispersed by ants, who carry them to new locations and plant them in their nests. In areas where the plant is not native, it can quickly spread and outcompete native vegetation, which can have a negative impact on local ecosystems. For this reason, it is important to be cautious when planting Meadow saffron and to ensure that it is not allowed to spread beyond the boundaries of your garden.

Meadow saffron is a fascinating and beautiful plant that has a long history of medicinal and cultural use. It is a great addition to gardens, especially those with a naturalistic or woodland theme, but care should be taken to prevent its spread to areas where it is not native. Whether you admire it in the wild or in a garden, this unique and captivating flower is sure to make a lasting impression.

Aside from its ornamental and medicinal uses, Meadow saffron has also been used in folklore and mythology. In ancient Greece, it was said that the plant sprouted from the blood of a nymph named Chloris who was turned into a flower by the god of the underworld, Hades. In European folklore, it was believed that the plant bloomed on the graves of the dead, and that it was a symbol of death and resurrection.

In the language of flowers, Meadow saffron has a rich and complex symbolism. In ancient Greece, it was associated with sadness and grief, while in the Middle Ages, it was a symbol of love and passion. Today, it is often seen as a symbol of beauty, mystery, and the changing seasons.

In art and literature, Meadow saffron has been featured in many works over the centuries. In literature, it has been mentioned in poems and songs, and in art, it has been depicted in paintings, drawings, and other works. The striking beauty and unique life cycle of Meadow saffron have inspired artists and writers throughout history, and it continues to be a popular subject for artists and writers today.

Meadow saffron is a plant that has had a rich and varied history, from its medicinal uses to its cultural and artistic significance. It is a beautiful and unique flower that adds a touch of magic and mystery to the autumn landscape, and it is sure to continue to inspire and captivate for generations to come. Whether you are a gardener, an artist, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of nature, Meadow saffron is a plant that is well worth discovering.

The cultivation of Meadow saffron is not without its challenges, however. As a member of the lily family, it is susceptible to various fungal diseases and insect pests, such as the lily beetle. Gardeners should be mindful of these potential problems and take steps to prevent them from damaging their plants.

Another challenge in growing Meadow saffron is timing. The flowers of the plant only appear above ground for a brief period of time in the autumn, and the leaves do not emerge until the spring. This means that the plant can be difficult to locate in the garden if it is not properly labeled. Gardeners can overcome this challenge by planting Meadow saffron in a prominent location and by keeping detailed records of where they have planted it.

Despite these challenges, Meadow saffron remains a popular and rewarding plant for gardeners. With its beautiful flowers, interesting life cycle, and rich history, it is a plant that is sure to bring joy and beauty to any garden. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or just starting out, Meadow saffron is a plant that is well worth considering for your garden.

In conclusion, Meadow saffron is a fascinating and beautiful plant that has much to offer gardeners. With its ornamental beauty, medicinal uses, cultural significance, and historical roots, it is a plant that is sure to capture the imagination and delight of all who encounter it. Whether you are growing it for its beauty or for its historical and cultural significance, Meadow saffron is a plant that is sure to bring a touch of magic and mystery to your garden.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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