Plant of the Week: Autumn crocus

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. This week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

A subtle standout on the High Line at the moment is the Crocus pulchellus, or Autumn crocus, which hearkens back to the appearance of bulbs as the first sign of life to emerge in mid-March. It's not uncommon for certain early-spring bloomers to get a second wind in the fall as the year cools; you'll notice the witch hazel having an understated rebloom right now at 30th Street. But fall is the primary bloom time for this crocus, and the emergence of its delicate, satiny petals among the textures and colors of the autumn garden is a pretty sign of colder nights to come.

Crocus pulchellus is native to Southwest Asia, as are many other plants that use bulbs to store nutrients underground in climates which experience drought, high winds, very cold winters and hot summers. It's a common sight dotting Greek meadows in autumn, its flowers pale lilac with a small pool of gold at the center – easily living up to its epithet, the Latin pulchellus, which carries the sense of pretty; charming. Standing remarkably upright for a crocus, which are known to flop over in the shade, the flowers emerge before the leaves, and last from October through November. The bulbs (actually corms, another type of stem modified for belowground nutrient storage) ought to be planted no later than mid-September, to give them plenty of time to root and prepare to flower. One planting strategy is to gently scatter a handful of the corms across the ground - taking care not to lose them in surrounding foliage - and to plant them as they fall in loose groups to best mimic natural clusters. They naturalize easily by producing many bulblets around the parent corm, and increase in number rapidly from year to year.

The appealing characteristics of this crocus - its upright stature, its long bloom-time and resistance to frost - might be subsumed by those of other crocus varieties, if several varieties present in a small garden cross-breed. Bear this in mind when choosing fall crocus varieties for your garden.

Do not overwater, as bulbs can rot. Flowers best in sunny, protected environs. Prefers moderately rich soil with good drainage.

Washington Grasslands & Woodland Edge

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects –become a member of the High Line today!

Recent Posts
Plant of the Week: Sea Lavender
view post
Open Encounter: A Conversation with Brendan Fernandes
view post