Colchicum autumnale   Meadow Saffron R DD N

Colchicum autumnale bud Colchicum autumnale open

This native plant looks like a crocus with six stamens instead of three. It has a corm rather than a bulb and flowers in the Autumn when the leaves have long since died off. The flower is borne on a long delicate white stalk which falls over if you look at it too harshly. The fruit ripens in spring when the leaves are present. Although known as Meadow Saffron it grows in woods too - usually on neutral or basic soils.

It is poisonous in all its parts which is due to the presence of the alkaloid colchicine. This molecule, the structure of which has been determined has the IUPAC name: N-((7S)-5,6,7,9-tetrahydro-1,2,3,10-tetramethoxy-9-oxobenzo(a)heptalen-7-yl)- acetamide will no doubt enable all our readers to draw the three ringed structure with consummate ease.

There are good concentrations of Meadow Saffron in south west England around the Gloucester/Somerset areas. Its many other vernacular names include: Naked Ladies, Autumn Crocus (now reserved by Stace for Crocus nudiflorus), Naked Maidens, Naked Nanny, Naked Men, Naked Jacks and predictably Naked Virgins. Colchicum autumnale is present in smaller populations elsewhere in England, Wales and Scotland. There are very few Naked Virgins in Ireland apparently.

Woods near Cheddar 11th September 2006

Added on 12th September 2006, added 5th December 2008, updated 19th March 2010, updated Se3 4th May 2010, updated 12th Oct 2014

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