Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First Robin Of Spring

When spring finally arrives next March, one of the first bloomers in our garden is this little bulb, Bulbocodium vernum. It is often endearingly called 'raggedy robin' because its flowers look somewhat rumpled even when they first bloom.
It looks for all the world like a little, spring-blooming colchicum, and in fact recently it has been moved into that genus and re-labeled Colchicum vernum. I had always read that this is a monotypic bulb (the only species in its former genus bulbocodium). However, I recently found that some botanists have differentiated out a second species, Bulbocodium (now Colchicum) versicolor which is smaller and native more to the east, in southeastern Europe to the Caucasus (vernum is native in the southern Alps and Pyrenees). The territories and the plants overlap and some consider versicolor just a subtype of vernum. Versicolor is rarely offered for sale and possibly is a little less hardy than vernum; it looks from its pictures even more like a typical little colchicum (though also spring blooming).
There is another small, related genus (merendera) of bulbs native in southeastern Europe that are similar and have also now been melded into the genus colchicum. Merenderas look like a prohibitive stretch to grow in our climate, being from more Mediterranean locales, and as best I can tell being fall-bloomers that put out their foliage in late fall after blooming.

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