Tuesday, October 27, 2015

curving out petal

curving out petal
unfolds from the heart of a
melancholy crocus 

Last fall I planted half a dozen autumn crocus by the front walk, just inside the gate. In the spring, violets and peonies came and went, iris and roses, and finally asters and goldenrod. Now, in late October, everything has gone to seed. One cold morning, I venture out the front door to be greeted by a solitary burst of violet flame lighting up the dead leaves, more vibrant than the red blueberry leaves at the foot of its pale stem. It looks a bit like saffron crocus, and indeed it is often called meadow saffron, but it blooms in the fall instead of the spring. I can't imagine what possesses the plant to bloom when almost all the pollinators have flown away, retreated into nests or died.

This flower (a member of the lily family, Liliaceae) is as surprising as the surprise lilies, Lycoris squamigera (actually in the amaryllis family, Amaryllidaceae) when they magically "resurrect" in August on their leafless stalks. Both plants are called naked ladies because the blossoms appear long after the leaves have died. Now I recall noticing some narrow dark green leaves that came up in this spot in the spring but produced no flowers. I had forgotten planting the autumn crocus the previous fall. Unlike the tall pink resurrection lilies, autumn crocus are daintier, more delicate. This particular variety, "Waterlily," has unique double petals, like a fairy's tutu.

Autumn crocus may look like saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, whose red-orange stigmas are used as a colorful and flavorful spice, but all parts of Colchicum autumnale are deadly. The leaves, seeds and corms contain colchicine, a poison whose symptoms appear in two to five hours and resemble arsenic, with no antidote. However, properly processed as a drug, colchicine is used for the treatment of acute gout. Interestingly, I recently had a bout of gout. The doctor prescribed allopurinol, which probably contains the alkoloid colchicine. But I opted to use an herbal formula, Gout Resolve, which definitely did not contain any toxins and it relieved the pain and swelling in my toes in two days.

Only one autumn crocus appeared out of the all the corms I planted a year ago. But the single bloom, alone among the dying foliage, is more heart-breakingly beautiful than a handful of companions. 

So fragile and short-lived. After three days of blooming, this morning in a cold autumnal rain the lone naked lady bows her lilac tresses to the ground.

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