October: Colchicum autumnale

Colchicum flowers violett, sometimes white (image: M. Sommerfeld)

Colchicum is one of the few plants that flower in autumn, triggered by the shorter days. With their 5 to 25 cm in size they belong to the largest flowers of our Flora. They are not related with the similar looking Crocus that flower in spring, but belong to an own Family. They prefer fresh meadows, and alluvial forests, but are also found in forests.

Despite ist nice appearance, Colchicum is dangerous. It contains the alkaloid colchicine, an efficient spindle blocker binding to tubulin, the protein that builds the division spindle. Less than a mg of colchicine are sufficient to kill an adult. This is the dose in 60 g of fresh leaves. The poison is stable in dried leaves, which is problematic, when Colchicum inadvertedly is cut in hay for feed.

To mix up Colchicum with the often collected Allium ursinum is fatal, but can be avoided with some care: Colchicum leaves appear only in summer, whereas the leaves of A. ursinum with their characteristic garlic smell are found in early spring. Nevertheless, it happens from time to time that People get intoxicated with Colchicum - if you are not sure, better buy your A. ursinum in the shop...