October 17, 2010 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

When gardeners speak of  "Autumn crocus" they are usually referring to the giant pink colchicums, now placed in their own family, or allied to Liliaceae.There is nothing wrong with colchicums, of course, but they are not very closely related to true crocuses, the latter being in the Iris family. Although superficially similar, colchicums have six stamens, and true crocuses have only three. Both often emerge in the fall without their foliage (which comes later in winter and spring). Colchicum foliage is usually very wide and lush, while crocuses have more grassy leaves, albeit with a white midrib. One frequently sees colchicums in Colorado gardens, but the equally lovely (and even more graceful) true autumn crocuses are rarely seen. Denver Botanic Gardens has a wonderful display of these right now in several gardens--along the Shady Lane across from the new Orangerie is one, and also in the Rock Alpine Garden. Take advantage of this luminous, endless autumn to stroll around the Gardens and seek out these gems! Above you have the commonest and most wonderful species from the eastern Mediterranean, Crocus speciosus. It has the largest flowers in the entire genus Crocus, which has nearly 100 species!

Crocus pulchellus in Rock Alpine GardenCrocus speciosus

This is the wonderful patch of Crocus pulchellus (with one Crocus speciosus interloper!) across from the Succulent House in the Rock Alpine Garden.

Crocus nudiflorus
I photographed this wonderful Western European species in my own garden, although we have this at Denver Botanic Gardens as well: the deep violet flower is quite different from the commoner crocuses. This one sends out long underground runners and has adapted well to my rock garden. Many more species can be found if you seek out specialty nurseries like Brent and Becky's Bulbs, although it's best to get them in the ground in early September...

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