Colchicum autumnale

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Botanical Name:Colchicum Luteum.
Family: Colchicaceae
Genus:     Colchicum
Kingdom: Plantae
Order:     Liliales

Common Names: The common names “autumn crocus”, “meadow saffron” and “naked lady” may be applied to the whole genus or to many of its species; they refer to the “naked” crocus-like flowers which appear in late summer or autumn, long before the strap-like foliage which appears in spring.

Colchicum melanthioides is probably the best known species from the tropical regions. In contrast to most temperate colchicums the flower and leaves are produced at the same time, the white flowers are usually a small corymb which is enclosed by white bracts. Close relatives (such as Colchicum scabromarginatum and Colchicum coloratum) have flowers with very short stalks and might be pollinated by rodents.It is also called Saffron

The Botanical name is Colchicum Luteum. Indian name is Hirantutia

Other Names are Colchicum autumnale, Autumn Crocus

Habitat : Colchicum is native to West Asia, Europe, parts of the Mediterranean coast, down the East African coast to South Africa and the Western Cape. In this genus the ovary of the flower is underground. As a consequence, the styles are extremely long in proportion, often more than 10 cm (4 in).Grows wild in meadows, especially on limestone.

Description:   Colchicum is an annual herb with brownish fleshy under ground stems. It is almost conical in shape,flattened on one side and round on the other.The plant has very narrow leaves, large flowers and fruits with recurved tips.

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Colchicum is a genus of flowering plants containing around sixty species of perennial plants which grow from corms. It is a member of family Colchicaceae, and is native to West Asia and part of the Mediterranean coast.

Colchicum autumnale, commonly called “autumn crocus” or “naked ladies”, is the best known species. It produces purple, pink or white flowers resembling those of the crocus which appear from September to October in its native latitudes. It forms a rosette of dark green leaves, but only after flowering.

Colchicums are native to Europe and northern Africa. The scientific name comes from Colchis, an ancient country bordering on the Black Sea, now part of the Georgian Republic, where colchicums are abundant.

Constituents:      The chief constituents of Colchicum is the alkaloid,colchicine,which occur in the form of yellow flakes,crystals or as whitish yellow amorphous powder..

Several other species, such as C. speciosum, C. album, C. corsicum and C. agrippinum, are grown for their flowers.

Its leaves, corm and seeds are poisonous, containing the alkaloid colchicine. Its roots and seeds have long been considered to have valuable medicinal properties deriving from the use of small doses of this drug, such as to treat gout.

In this genus the ovary of the flower is underground. As a consequence, the styles are extremely long in proportion, often more than 10cm.

In the UK, the National Collection of Cochicums is maintained at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Colchicums should be planted immediately after delivery in August or September. (They often bloom in their shipping container if not planted immediately.) Plant the corms in well- drained soils in full sun to partial shade. Good planting sites include naturalized areas under the filtered shade of large trees and shrubs, in rock gardens, or among low-growing groundcovers such as sedum. For the best visual display, plant colchicums in clumps. The corms should be planted 2 to 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart.

Colchicum autumnale is most commonly known as autumn crocus, but in various regions it is known as naked-ladies, colchicum, and meadow saffron. It should be noted that it’s not a crocus, and it’s not saffron, and should definitely not be used in place of saffron in cooking because eating any part of this plant can kill you.

The autumn crocus is native to Europe but has been introduced to Canada and the U.S., where it is both grown in gardens and lives as a wild escapee in meadows and woodlands. It’s a perennial herb in the lily family (Liliaceae) which grows from a corm (a solid bulb) that can unfortunately be mistaken for a wild onion. The rapierlike leaves grow about a foot high, and in the early fall one or two leafless stalks sprout from the corm; each stalk produces a single white-to-purplish-pink flower that resembles a crocus.

The extreme toxicity of this plant has been known since the times of ancient Greece, but in the fifth century, herbalists in the Byzantine Empire discovered it could be used to treat rheumatism and arthritis, and the Arabs began to use it for gout. The useful active ingredient in the plant is an alkaloid called colchicine, which is still used to treat gout and which has anticancer properties.

Poisoning from this plant resembles arsenic poisoning; the symptoms (which occur 2 to 5 hours after the plant has been eaten) include burning in the mouth and throat, diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and kidney failure. Death from respiratory failure often follows. Less than than two grams of the seeds is enough to kill a child; a specific antidote doesn’t exist, so treatment typically involves giving the victim activated charcoal or pumping the stomach.
Landscape Uses:Alpine garden, Border, Foundation, Massing, Rock garden, Specimen. Prefers a rich well-drained loam in a sunny position. Tolerates partial shade but dislikes dry soils. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.5 to 7.5. Plants are hardy to about -20°c. The dormant bulbs are fairly hardy and will withstand soil temperatures down to at least -5°c. The autumn crocus is easily grown in grass and can be naturalized there. It also grows well amongst shrubs and by woodland edges. Plant the corms about 7 – 10cm deep in July. Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits, though slugs may attack the corms. The flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies. Special Features:Not North American native, Naturalizing, Suitable for cut flowers.
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in early summer in a seed bed or a cold frame. Germination can be very slow, taking up to 18 months at 15°c. It is best to sow the seed thinly so that it is not necessary to transplant the seedlings for their first year of growth. Apply a liquid fertilizer during their first summer, however, to ensure they get sufficient nourishment. Prick out the seedlings once they are dormant, putting perhaps 2 plants per pot, and grow them on in a greenhouse or frame for at least a couple of years. Plant them out into their permanent positions when they are dormant. The seedlings take 4 – 5 years to reach flowering size. Division of the bulbs in June/July when the leaves have died down. Larger bulbs can be planted out direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up the smaller bulbs and grow them on in a cold frame for a year before planting them out. The plant can be divided every other year if a quick increase is required.

Medicinal Uses:

Theophrastus (c.371-287 B.C.) noted it to be very toxic. In the fifth century (Byzantine Empire), it was used for the treatment of joint conditions. Colchicine is an alkaloid that relieves the joint pain and inflammation of gout. Colchicine is still derived from the plant itself because chemists have not been able to synthesize it inexpensively in the laboratory.
Colchicum is a medicine of great repute.It is mostly used in Afghanistan and northern India. Its medical properities were well known even among the Arabs As an effective Allopathic medicine colchicum is used beneficially in gout.

Though known since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, autumn crocus was considered too poisonous to use medicinally and it was not until research in the Eighteenth century that the plant was discovered to be of value in the treatment of gout. In modern herbalism it is still used to relieve the pain and inflammation of acute gout and rheumatism, although frequent use has been known to encourage more frequent attacks of the complaint. Both the corm and the seeds are analgesic, antirheumatic, cathartic and emetic. They are used mainly in the treatment of gouty and rheumatic complaints, usually accompanied with an alkaline diuretic. Leukaemia has been successfully treated with autumn crocus, and the plant has also been used with some success to treat Bechet’s syndrome, a chronic disease marked by recurring ulcers and leukaemia. A very toxic plant, it should not be prescribed for pregnant women or patients with kidney disease, and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. See also the notes above on toxicity. The seeds are harvested in early summer, the corms in mid to late summer when the plant has fully died down. They are dried for later use[238]. The fresh bulb is used to make a homeopathic remedy. It is used in the treatment of nausea, diarrhoea and rheumatism

Gouts: Colchicum is useful in releaving pain and inflamations of gout. Clinical experiments with colchicum in small dose over a long period have shown effective tresult in such conditions. The seeds, chiefly the rind, also containing colchicine, may be used in the treatment of gout.

Rheumatism: The drug is beneficial in the treatment of rheumatic swellings.A paste made with saffron and egg can be applied benefically to rheumatic and other swellings.

Wounds: Dried and powdered roots of the plant is very useful in the healing of wounds. It should be sprinkled on the affected area.

Other Uses:
Plant breeding.

The poisonous alkaloid ‘colchicine’ is extracted from this plant and used to alter the genetic make-up of plants in an attempt to find new, improved varieties. It works by doubling the chromosome number.

Precautions: It has a very bitter taste. It has an action similar to that of colchicine, but the bitter is more active and toxic.When taken in large dose ,colchicine causes intestinal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. The regular use of the drug can cause severe irritation in the intestine. To counteract this, it is advisable to use the drug with belladonna.

Known Hazards:  All parts of the plant, but especially the bulb, are poisonous. They cause vomiting, violent purging, serious inflammation of the stomach and bowels, and death. Handling the corms can cause skin allergies in some people.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Help taken from: Miracle of Herbs, and and


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