Anyone who loves flowers and gardens knows the crocuses, they are small spring-flowering flowers, widespread even in the wild in our peninsula, which are often planted even in the turf, to produce a more natural effect in the lawn; they are very easy to cultivate plants, which stand up well to frost, and bloom every year even in non-ideal cultivation conditions. In fact the flowering of the many species of crocuses spread in cultivation takes place in spring, sometimes in late winter, as soon as the days begin to lengthen; and then why do gods bloom in my meadow crocuses also in September and October?
Actually in Italy they are commonly called crocuses some species of small flowers with shapes similar to each other, but which do not belong to the crocus genus; they are often confused with crocuses, and cultivated as such.
The most common crocus-non-crocus species in Italy are the Sternbergie, the Colchici and the zephyranthes. These plants share many characteristics, not only of form, with the true crocuses; the thing that differentiates them very clearly is the flowering period, in fact the most widespread species and varieties of these plants produce their small flowers at the end of summer or autumn.
The name is also difficult to pronounce, often called autumnal crocuses, or yellow crocuses; the plant is in fact very similar to a crocus, the species Sternbergia lutea produces decidedly similar flowers, were it not for the foliage that is more conspicuous, and larger, and for the flowering, which begins in September and continues until the first frosts .
The Sternbergias do not belong to the same crocus family, but to the amaryllidaceae; there are about five species of this plant, where Sternbergia lutea is certainly the most widespread in cultivation.
In addition to their appearance they also share the ease of cultivation with the crocuses, in fact it is sufficient to put them in the house in late autumn or in late winter, in a good well-drained soil, and in a sunny place; these plants have a period of vegetative rest that lasts throughout the summer; towards the end of summer, when the climate becomes cool and humid, they begin to produce the long arched, light-green ribbon leaves; the leaves are followed by flowers, similar to yellow crocuses, but more elongated and tall; the foliage remains lush throughout the winter; do not fear frost.
Usually they are only followed in the first year, watering only if the ground remains dry for several days; from the second year onwards the sternbergie grown in the open ground are left to themselves, and grow without problems, tending to always produce new bulbils, and to spread in uncultivated areas.
If we have space we can leave the plants to stay, so that they increase in number; if instead we want to contain them, about every two years, in spring, we eradicate the bulbs and thin them, throwing the small or ruined ones.
Also called crazy lilies, or false crocuses, the colchici are widespread throughout Europe; they have a medium-sized bulb, which produces a thick foliage in spring, shiny, broad, elongated; the lush foliage thrives until the summer, and then dries up; when the leaves have disappeared, in late summer or autumn, the colchici produce the flowers, which sprout without stem directly from the bare ground.
The flowers resemble crocuses in their form, but they are wider, or longer, in shades of white and pink; there are many species and varieties of colchic, some even with double and large flowers.
The colchics belong to the same family as the lilies, and all parts of the plant contain colchicine, an alkaloid used in medicine, highly toxic.
They are grown in the ground, in a fairly rich and well-drained substrate, so as to avoid stagnation of water.
They love sunny positions, and generally do not need treatment; they settle in late spring or early summer, to see the first flowers already in late summer.
Spring leaves should be allowed to develop undisturbed, so that the plant can store enough nutrients for autumn flowering.
Autumn crocuses: The zephyranthes
Also the zephyranthes, commonly known with the name of rain lilies, belong to the family of amaryllidaceae, like the sternbergias; these bulbs, which produce flowers similar to enlarged crocuses, of bright colors, are of American origin, although many species are now widespread in the wild even in other areas of the world.
The particularity of these bulbous plants is that they are often evergreen, with a beautiful tuft of ribbon-like leaves, dark green; moreover the zephyranthes bloom whenever, after a period of drought, the climate becomes more humid. This event in Italy takes place in autumn and spring, it is not unusual in fact that some species of zephyranthes bloom twice in a year.
They are planted in the sun or in partial shade, in a good rich and very well drained soil; they tolerate drought without problems, which, if prolonged, can cause the loss of most of the foliage.
As soon as the weather gets wet in autumn, the plant begins to produce buds, which bloom for most of the autumn.
They do not fear frost, and often the plant loses its foliage due to summer drought, and not because of winter cold.