#8 Autumn Crocus

Photo by EKS
Autumn Crocus/ Colchicum

While looking something like the spring crocus, the Autumn Crocus or Colchicum is taxonomically quite distinct.  Also called Meadow Saffron or Naked Ladies or Naked Boys, they grow like crocus from corms, but have no leaves (hence the “naked” appellations) and six stamens instead of three (Ward 90).  The flowers tend to the purple range and, while goblet-shaped, are larger and floppier than the true crocus.

The autumn crocus appears, symmetrically enough, twice in Woolf’s life-writing and twice in her fiction.  Both references to the flower growing in the orchard at Monk’s House are related to Leonard.  On September 1, 1925, Woolf writes enthusiastically to Janet Case: “Our garden is the envy of Sussex.  We have discovered a colchicum, like a little purple tulip, which you plant one week and it comes up the next. Needless to say, this is all Leonard’s doing” (L3 202).  Two weeks later her diary is the recipient of an account of her affection for Monk’s House: “A walk in pearly mottled weather, on the marshes, plunges me in love again.  Leonard finds his potato crop good, & his autumn crocuses rising” (D3 41). Leonard records buying Colchicum for the garden five times in his Account Book between 1929 and 1935.

 Interestingly enough, there is a spousal connection to the appearances of the autumn crocus in 1928 in Orlando where the flower is explicitly identified with Orlando’s soul mate and husband, Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine.  The autumn crocus is said to “signify that very word,” his last name (190), and the identification is repeated -- “Shelmerdine (meaning crocuses in autumn woods)” -- during a later meditation on the variety of selves making up a single person (O 226). 

See Works Cited Page for full documentation

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About 98 Flowers

Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...