Hocus Crocus! Beautiful Bulbs For Fall

October 20, 2013 | By | Comments (4)
Autumn crocus

Beautiful, lilac waves of autumn crocus bloom at Montrose, Nancy Goodwin’s garden in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Photo by Steve Bender.

Good gardeners know that the world of bulbs doesn’t begin and end with daffodils and tulips in spring. Bulbs also bloom in fall and some of them are strutting their stuff right now. Those above are called autumn crocus and are so eager to bloom, they’ll do it whether you plant them or not.

Not to confuse you, but there are actually two groups of plants called autumn crocus. The ones you see above aren’t really crocus at all, but species and selections of Colchicum, also known as meadow saffron. Telling them apart from true fall-blooming crocuses is easy. The flowers of Colchicum are bigger and showier. Plus, the lush leaves that pop up in spring and die down in summer don’t look anything like the small, spear-shaped leaves of true crocus.

Autumn crocus

The big leaves of Colchicum remind me a little of hosta foliage. Photo: wikimedia.org

Not For Human Consumption
A chemical derived from Colchicum, called colchicine, has a long history of use in folk medicine. Until recently, you could buy it in over-the-counter supplements to treat gout. Trouble is, colchicine is very toxic and overdosing could quickly kill you. So don’t chow down on autumn crocus. Don’t let its poisonous potential prevent you from planting it, though. Guess what other bulb will kill you if you eat it? The daffodil.

Colchicine is very useful to plant breeders, because its application causes plants such as daylilies to double their number of chromosomes. This produces hardier, faster-growing plants with larger, showier blooms of greater substance. When you see a huge, ruffled daylily bloom, colchicine was likely involved.

How to Grow
Plant autumn crocus bulbs (actually corms) in late summer and early fall in loose, well-drained soil in a full to partly sunny site. Plant 3-4 inches deep and 6-8 inches apart. Don’t worry about rodents eating them. Leave them in place and they’ll gradually multiply to form drifts. If you prefer an indoor show, set the corms on a pebble-lined dish filled with water or atop a bulb-forcing vase. Flowers will sprout right from the corms. After the flowers fade, plant the corms outside.

Mail-Order Sources
White Flower Farm
McClure & Zimmerman
Odyssey Bulbs


  1. Steve Bender


    I’d go with ‘Florida Flame.’

    October 23, 2013 at 9:53 am
  2. kathy keller

    Please help! I live near Ft Lauderdale, Fl, and want to plant a red maple. Have read about October Glory, Florida Flame, & Autumn Flame. Which would grow best & give the best red color for my area? Or is the native Acer Rubrum just as good?

    October 22, 2013 at 4:16 pm
  3. Jacinta

    The fall crocus is a beautiful type of flower. Also, the spring bulbs are really worth it your time to try them. You plant them in this period and they will pop up in early spring.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm
  4. Barbara West

    They thrive in fairly bad conditions, and have large foliage in the spring. Ours are in shade and red clay

    October 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm

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