Colchicum autumnale L.—Autumn crocus
FAMILY: Liliaceae—the Lily Family (see Amianthium)
PHENOLOGY: The white to light-rose or light-purple flowers appear in the fall.
DISTRIBUTION: Autumn crocus is cultivated around homes and in gardens. It rarely escapes and becomes naturalized.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: The flowers of Colchicum are chalice-shaped, with stamens: 6; and styles: 3, long and slender. The large leaves appear in the spring with the previous season’s seed-pod and die back during summer.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts are toxic, especially the bulb and seeds. Leaves are toxic at about 0.1 % of an animal's weight.
SYMPTOMS: Toxicosis includes vomiting; purging; weak, quick pulse; gastrointestinal irritation; burning pain in mouth, throat, and stomach; and kidney and respiratory failure.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The alkaloid colchicine and related compounds are responsible for poisonings.
CONFUSED TAXA: Spring crocus (Crocus) of the family Iridaceae can be confused with Autumn crocus. Crocus has 3 stamens and 1 style with 3 stigmas, whereas Colchicum has 6 stamens and 3 styles.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Children have been poisoned by eating the flowers; poisoning has been reported in all classes of livestock.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (22); (26)
OF INTEREST: The alkaloid is heat-stable and therefore not inactivated by high temperatures such as the ensilaging process. Livestock have been lost on ingestion of hay containing Colchicum. Milk from a lactating animal can poison the nursing offspring. The alkaloid is used medicinally as a gout suppressant, in the treatment of Familial Mediterranean Fever, in veterinary science as an antineoplastic, and in genetic research.
Other cultivated members of the Liliaceae are known or suspected to be poisonous Tulip ( Tulipa spp.) bulbs cause severe purgation in cattle. Hyacinth (Hyacinthus spp.) bulbs, if eaten in quantity, produce gastrointestinal upset, severe purgation, diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. During World War II, bulbs were fed to cattle in the Netherlands, producing violent gastric reactions.
Still other Liliaceae of concern are: dogtooth violet (Erythronium spp ) - bulbs known to poison poultry; bunchflower (Melanthium spp ) - may poison sheep, cattle, and horses; fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris) - contains a heart-depressant alkaloid; and squills (Urginea maritima) - bulbs contain cardiotonic glycosides having digitalis-like action.
Additionally, some edible members of the Liliaceae have been reported to produce toxicosis. Cultivated onions (Allium cepa L.), chives (Allium schoenoprasm L.), and wild onion (Allium canadense L.) produce compounds known to be toxic in large quantities; wild garlic (Allium vineale L.) also is suspect. Symptoms may include anemia and intense gastroenteritis. When death follows, the animal tissue and even the necropsy room are permeated with onion odor. The compounds allicin and alliin, known to have antimicrobial properties, may be involved. Cultivated asparagus (Asparagus officinalis L.) is reported to have killed dairy cattle upon ingestion of mature plants. The red berries of asparagus are eaten both raw and cooked but because some individuals are sensitive to the berries, this practice is to be discouraged.