If people were asked what is the first bulb to flower in the spring, many would probably say a snowdrop. Some narcissus varieties such as ‘Cedric Morris’ and ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ are quick off the mark too, but the first bulb in my garden to open a flower is colchicum hungaricum ‘Album’.
No more than a few inches tall, the type produces between two and six globular pinkish-lilac flowers with dark brown anthers. The form ‘Album’ of course has white flowers, sometimes slightly tinged with pink. Found in Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria, it grows in dry, stony and sandy habitats, sometimes at the back of the sea shore, and its totally hardy. Its appearance is very weather dependent – in 2015 it bloomed in mid January, but then again in early December after a very mild autumn. This year, I have had to wait until the last couple of days in January for the first bloom to open.
A couple of selected forms are available in commerce, ‘Valentine’ has pink flowers and is said to bloom on Valentine’s Day in mid February, although this will depend on where you live and if the weather has other ideas. ‘Velebit Star’, a form found in the Velebit Mountains of Croatia, has pure white flowers, more star shaped.