Keen gardeners get impatient at this time of year. Bulbs have been poking their noses through the soil since autumn, and we want them to grow a bit more and open their flowers to show that spring really is on the way. But they are not going to be rushed. Rain, hail or snow will stop them in their tracks, protecting the precious pollen until the conditions are right for prospective pollinators to be around. Procreation is their priority, not our delight.
So any flower that has the temerity to open so early in the year is to be welcomed. Snowdrops, winter aconites, witch hazels all thrill with their early display. Just like crocuses, some colchicums flower in the spring while others wait until the autumn months. Colchicum hungaricum is invariably quick out of the blocks, blooming defiantly in January or early February. A native of Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria, it can be found growing in dry, stony and sandy habitats, including just behind the seashore. Although totally hardy, a position in full sun with well-drained conditions are required to remind it of home. The pinkish-lilac or white flowers, with dark brown anthers, are carried on 10 cm (four inch) stems; two or three short, glaucous leaves will be carried at the same time.
You may come across the variety ‘Valentine’ with pale rose coloured flowers, said to open on St Valentine’s Day (14th February). Another named form is ‘Velebit Star’. These carry larger flowers which may be white, occasionally pale pink, or rarely a darker pink. These forms originate from plants found in the Velebit mountains of Croatia.
I grow one that came as C. h. ‘Album’, the white flowers subtly lined inside.
While colchicum hungaricum has to battle our winter conditions, there is no doubting its willingness to put on an early display.