Colchicum Waterlily

Waterlily is a species of the genus Colchicum, also known as the Autumn Crocus. Though it is not actually a crocus, some of the other Colchicum species do resemble them. Colchicum Waterlily, though, really does resemble a waterlily. It’s a rather unusual plant in that the flowers appear on a stalk in early fall. Because the stalk is alone, with no leaves, this plant is also sometimes called Naked Lady. The blooms last a week or two in the garden, and also make long lasting cut flowers. Later, the following spring, the leaves appear and last until July or so. The leaves are about 7-10 inches tall and I think they kind of look like hyacinths. Mid-summer, the leaves start to turn yellow and stop looking attractive. By the time the flowers return in the fall, the leaves have disappeared. I was under the impression that the leaves came first, but apparently the blooms are the first part of the growing cycle.

Colchicum Waterlily has corms. I’ve always thought that corms and bulbs were the same, but they really are entirely different things. Both of them are underground structures that store the nutrients needed for the life cycle of the plant. Bulbs are made up of several parts, and if you were to cut one in half, you would see many different layers, along with a miniature plant. Tulips and Daffodils grow from bulbs. A corm is actually a swollen part of the stem of the plant, used by the plant to survive winter and drought. It is solid inside, so there’s not much to see if you cut it open. Because the corm has what the plant needs to survive, Colchicum plants have been known to grow even though their corms have not yet been planted in soil. Gladiolus and Crocus also have corms. Corms can be divided and replanted, but Colchicum don’t grow from corms, they grow from seeds. Ants like the seeds and helpfully spread them around as they carry them back to their nests.

Colchicum is not something that should ever be eaten, by humans or animals. The entire plant contains a chemical called colchicine which is quite toxic, causing kidney damage, paralysis and even death. Amazingly, colchicine is used to make drugs for highly specific conditions, and to treat gout. Touching the corms without gloves is also not a good idea because skin irritation may result. The good news is that the plants are usually safe from deer and rabbits.

The photos shown here are of a Colchicum Waterlily that lived briefly in my garden. I planted it in 2007 and it bloomed wonderfully, though on much shorter stems than I was led to expect. The next year, I had leaves in the early summer, and flowers in the fall. The flowers appear quite suddenly, seeming to grow overnight. Unfortunately, this spring no leaves appeared, and no flowers either. Though opinions differ on which zones are best to grow Colchicum, almost all of the ranges I found include zone 5, which is where I live. So, it is a mystery why they disappeared, but I did enjoy them while they lasted.

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One Response to “Colchicum Waterlily”

  1. Reinaldo Cockram Says:

    I was looking for more information on Gout and found your site on Yahoo. Very helpful, thanks!

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