The Meadow Saffron (Colchicum autumnale) is an uncommon and delicate pink flower; a member of the lily family. It is a wild native of Britain and Europe.
Whilst somewhat similar to a crocus they can be easily distinguished by the fact that they have six stamens (as opposed to the three stamen of a crocus). The plant produces leaves in the spring and then a flower in autumn, after the leaves have died off. The flower is borne on a pale & fragile stalk; this combined with the lack of leaves, gives rise to its common name ‘Naked Ladies’. The entire plant is poisonous due to the presence of colchicine. Indeed it is this poisonous nature that has contributed to its removal from many meadows across the country. Another common name for the plant is ‘Autumn Crocus’ due to its flowering time and similarity to crocuses; however this name is now reserved for Crocus nudiflorus, the autumn flowering crocus.
The alkaloid poison colchicine has been extracted from these plants for various medical uses. Amongst others, it is believed to inhibit the formation of uric acid crystals and may therefore be useful in the treatment of gout. Its ability to inhibit cell division has also encouraged its use as a cancer treatment. It is also a purgative. A valuable medicinal plant but not one to be experimented with, Colchicine is extremely poisonous.
Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust are managing a colony of these flowers at their Llanmerewig Glebe reserve. The small reserve is an oasis of tranquillity located only a few miles from the main Newtown – Welshpool road, near to Abermule. The land belonged to the church at Llanmerewig for many years and is a good example of a traditional agricultural meadow of the region.The picture above shows the meadow on a fine September day.
We visited the reserve on a glorious day in early September, when the Bees & Butterflies were certainly enjoying the late source of nectar provided by the Meadow Saffron. Swallows flew low, topping up before their long autumn journey; whilst a group of House Martins hunted insects slightly higher off the ground. There were signs of a Fox kill from the previous night and a Sparrow Hawk was seen flying at pace down the hedgerow. Finally a Buzzard was seen, and heard, wheeling high above neighbouring farm land.
I recommend the reserve as a place to quietly take a few moments out from a busy life and must compliment the Wildlife Trust on helping to preserve such a beautiful wild flower, of which I understand, there are few in Wales.