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Autumn Crocus, (Colchicum autumnale) also known as Meadow Saffron and Naked Lady, this because when they flower the leaves have long since died, a bit like the pink garden plant called a Nerine.

Autumn Crocus

Autumn Crocus

Autumn Crocuses are very rare in GB but not quite so in France, they prefer a shady and well fertilised soil. They are famous as a source of the chemical colchicine which is  found in the bulbs and is poisonous. However in the right amounts it is a useful drug and has been used to treat gout. Recently a lot of research work has been undertaken using derivative of colchicine in the battle against cancer.

756px-Colchicine_3DMore famously colchicine has been used in plant breeding to produce Polyploid plants. Normally species are Diploid, which means they have two sets of chromosomes, one from the male parent and one from the female. In plants however quite a few species like blackberry and Hawthorn have numberous sets of chromosomes, four sets are called tetraploids, six sets are hexaploids and so on.  If colchicine is applied to plants then it will induce polyploidy, ie a diploid can be changed into a tetraploid.  What is the point of this? well it can make the plant more vigorous so it grows quicker, produces more fruit or seed or has bigger seed.

Autumn Crocus

Autumn Crocus

One of the most important  plants produced as a result of colchicine treatment is a cereal called Triticale. This is a hybrid of wheat and rye, but when you cross these two you get a sterile offspring, however by treatment with colchicine this sterile plant produces a fertile polyploid version and this is now a major crop.    In 2009, 15 million tons of Triticale were produced world-wide.

Other major uses of Colchicine has been in the production of flowers like Orchids, Roses and Phlox

Click here for more photos of wildflowers from Poitou-Charentes.

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