Autumnale crocus or Meadow saffron

Friends of Chorlton Meadows

August 17, 2013 – 08:13 am

Ladies, Meadow Saffron

If you take a walk along certain sections of the river bank, adjacent to Chorlton Ees, at the end of this month, and the beginning of the next, you should encounter the beautiful flowers of the Autumn Crocus (Crocus nudiflorus). This is probably the flower for which the Mersey Valley is most famous. It is a Greater Manchester Biodiversity Action Plan Notable Species and, in stylised form, it is the symbol of the Mersey Valley Countryside Warden Service. Nevertheless, it is not confined to the Mersey Valley and tends to occur within a circle drawn around Nottingham, Warwick, Shrewsbury, Preston and Halifax.

First, it may be necessary to clear up a constant source of misunderstanding. There is another plant, in the British Flora, which sometimes bears the name, ‘Autumn Crocus’ and that is Colchicum autumnale. Although C. autumnale looks superficially Crocus-like it is not a Crocus! Colchicums are in the Liliaceae (Lily family) and have six stamens. Crocus nudiflorus, on the other hand, is a ‘true’ Crocus in the botanical family Iridaceae (the Iris family). True Crocuses have three stamens which are much shorter than the feathery, orange stigma (which is, in some species, the source of the spice, Saffron). Colchicum autumnale is called in some books, ‘Meadow Saffron’ – but this doesn’t help matters as it doesn’t produce any Saffron – and you wouldn’t want to ingest any part of it as it is highly poisonous!

Finally, it is very unlikely that that C. autumnale would occur in the Mersey Valley at all. It tends to grow in a few limestone areas – with its main stronghold in Britain being The Cotswolds. The closest place that it is likely to be found to Manchester is Whalley in Lancashire.

It all goes to show that you should never pay too much attention to a plant’s common name – only its scientific (ie. ‘Latin’) name is unambiguous and meaningful.

Crocus nudiflorus, like other Crocuses, grows from a ‘corm’ (a swollen underground stem, forming a storage organ). This particular corm is unusual because it tends to send out horizontal ‘stolons’ (creeping, underground stems); these stolons are rather like those of couch or twitch grass except that they produce new corms at their ends – hence this species is patch-forming.
The other unusual thing about C. nudiflorus is that it produces its flowers in September/October but its leaves in February/March. The leaves are thin and grass-like with a vertical white stripe; as they age they tend to elongate up to about 10 – 15 cm before they fade away.

C. nudiflorus is not a British native but is naturalised here and comes, originally, from South West France and Northern Spain. So, how did it get here? This, it turns out, is a remarkable and surprising story – but first a word about Saffron.


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Plants, kids, and pets??

Please check before you plant. Many common garden plants can make a child or a pet severely ill if not kill them. Put in "list common garden plants poison" and look at the websites. All parts of some plants, and only specific parts of other plants are toxic. These are just a few.
Daffodils, hyacinths
Castor Bean
Autumn crocus, Star of Bethlehem
Daphne, wisteria
Rhodys, azaleas
If you have children or pets please check before you plant.

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Related posts:

  1. Autumn crocus common name
  2. Autumnale crocus scientific name
  3. Autumnale Crocus distribution
  4. Autumn crocus saffron