Autumn Crocus or Wild Saffron: All You Need to Know

Find out how to grow, care for and propagate autumn crocus, also known as wild saffron. This is a visually attractive species, which is why it's used as an ornamental plant.
Autumn Crocus or Wild Saffron: All You Need to Know

Last update: 23 November, 2021

Colchicum autumnale is also known as the autumn crocus and wild saffron and it’s noted for growing wild in the wet meadows within the mountains of Europe. It gets its name because it begins to bloom in the fall, filling many gardens with pink and lilac.

This plant has a bulbous root and can reach a height of between ten and thirty centimeters. It’s easy to recognize because its flowers seem to grow directly from the ground, between enveloping pointed leaves. These appear when the flower is fully developed, which is why it’s also known as the lonely lady.

Is it safe to grow the autumn crocus/wild saffron?

Wild saffron.

The autumn crocus or wild saffron is a visually very attractive species, which is why it’s used as an ornamental plant. However, it must be said that its bulbs are toxic as they contain colchicine.

Scientific studies indicate that this anti-inflammatory substance has prominent medical uses, including its use as a treatment in the acute attack of gout, arthritis, and scleroderma. Even so, its inadequate intake or if taken outside the medical recommendations is dangerous for health. It can produce diarrhea and vomiting and if an overdose occurs it can be fatal.

Although we understand the danger of consuming this plant, it can be grown in gardens to fill lawns with color and even grown in pots indoors.

Autumn crocus/wild saffron care

This plant requires basic (although specific) care for it to grow healthily. It needs exposure to light although it grows very well in both the sun and semi-shade, alongside a temperate environment.

The precise time to plant it is in the summer or at the end of this season. Likewise, it requires well-drained soil to avoid flooding, so if you choose to plant it in a pot, you have to use a pot that allows the water to escape.

However, during flowering, you have to keep the soil moist, which means that you have to water it often. Once the leaves appear, reduce the watering as much as possible until the leaves turn yellow. At this time, you have to remove the dry leaves and keep the bulb dry.

The autumn crocus or wild saffron has a great advantage and this is that it doesn’t require fertilizers since it’s quite resistant. So much so that it supports the impact of pests and diseases that would kill other indoor plants.

How to propagate it?

The autumn crocus or wild saffron is propagated in grass or undergrowth. However, you can do this at home in the spring, dividing the bulbs every four to five years. Before planting, remove the small bulblets and transplant the larger ones, which will flower in the fall.

By doing this, you can propagate wild saffron in your garden, terrace, or in pots. In fact, growing it in pots is much easier. You only need to plant the bulb in a little soil, which doesn’t require fertilizer. With a little watering and a little care, you’ll see that the flowering comes by itself.

In an easy and simple way, you can choose which indoor or outdoor spaces you want to decorate with this beautiful plant.

Where does saffron come from?


Crocus sativus or cultivated saffron is very different from wild saffron, and it’s from this that the spice of the same name is extracted. Due to the toxicity of the autumn crocus, saffron should never be collected from its petals.

Now, cultivated saffron is very delicate. This spice is harvested with great care and by hand when the flower is still a bud. The industry (dedicated to the production of saffron) roasts the powdered strands over a low heat.

The strands are then stored in an airtight jar, protected from light and moisture. Hence why quality saffron is expensive. As a spice, saffron is used to give flavor, color, and aroma to certain food preparations.