The families of flowering plants.                                                                                                                                                                

Colchicaceae DC.


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~Liliaceae - Colchiceae

IncludingBulbocodeae (Bulbocodiaceae) Salisb., Burchardiaceae

Habit and leaf form. Herbs. Perennial; with a basal aggregation of leaves, or with neither basal nor terminal aggregations of leaves; cormous, or rhizomatous (Gloriosa). Self supporting, or climbing; climbers stem twiners and tendril climbers. Mesophytic.Leaves alternate; spiral (usually), or distichous; petiolate (rarely), or sessile; sheathing; simple. Lamina entire; linear, or lanceolate; parallel-veined; without cross-venules. Lamina margins entire.

General anatomy. Plants with ‘crystal sand’.

Leaf anatomy. Stomata present; anomocytic.

Lamina dorsiventral. The mesophyll containing calcium oxalate crystals. The mesophyll crystals represented by crystal sand. Vessels absent.

Stem anatomy. Secondary thickening absent. Xylem without vessels.

Root anatomy. Root xylem with vessels (in the fibrous roots only); vessel end-walls scalariform.

Reproductive type, pollination. Unisexual flowersabsent. Plants hermaphrodite. Floral nectaries present. Nectar secretion from the perianth (usually), or from the androecium (e.g. Colchicum).

Inflorescence, floral, fruit and seed morphology. Flowers solitary, or aggregated in ‘inflorescences’; in cymes, in racemes, and in umbels. The ultimate inflorescence unit cymose, or racemose. Inflorescences scapiflorous, or not scapiflorous; terminal, or axillary, or leaf-opposed; espatheate.Flowers small to large; regular; 3 merous; cyclic; pentacyclic. Perigone tube present, or absent.

Perianthof ‘tepals’; 6(–8); free, or joined; 1 whorled (commonly in Australian genera, e.g. Wurmbea), or 2 whorled (usually 3+3?); isomerous; petaloid; without spots, or spotted; similar in the two whorls (in size and form); white, or purple, or red, or yellow.

Androecium 6. Androecial members free of the perianth (usually), or adnate (to the tepals); all equal; free of one another (usually), or coherent (e.g. Sandersonia,Wurmbea); rarely 1 adelphous; 1 whorled (e.g. Wurmbea), or 2 whorled (usually, 3+3). Androecium exclusively of fertile stamens. Stamens6; diplostemonous; alterniperianthial. Anthers dorsifixed, or basifixed; versatile, or non-versatile; dehiscing via longitudinal slits; extrorse (usually), or latrorse (very rarely almost introrse); tetrasporangiate. The endothecial thickenings spiral. Microsporogenesis successive. Tapetum glandular. Pollen grains aperturate; 1 aperturate, or 2–4 aperturate; sulcate (mostly), or foraminate, or spiraperturate; 2-celled.

Gynoecium 3(–4) carpelled. Carpels isomerous with the perianth. The pistil 3(–4) celled. Gynoecium syncarpous; synovarious to synstylovarious (with free stylodia, or the single style tribrachiate); superior. Ovary3(–4) locular. Styles 1, or 3; free to partially joined; apical. Stigmas3; wet type, or dry type. Placentation axile. Ovules 5–50 per locule; anatropous to campylotropous; bitegmic; pseudocrassinucellate. Embryo-sac development Polygonum-type. Polar nuclei fusing prior to fertilization. Antipodal cells formed; 3; proliferating (Iphigenia, up to 11 cells), or not proliferating. Endosperm formation nuclear. Embryogeny onagrad, or asterad.

Fruit non-fleshy; dehiscent; a capsule. Capsules septicidal (usually), or loculicidal, or septicidal and loculicidal (e.g. Wurmbea). Seeds endospermic. Endosperm oily. Seeds wingless. Cotyledons 1 (conspicuously coleoptile-like). Embryo straight (rarely subglobose). Testawithout phytomelan; brown (mostly), or red.

Seedling.Hypocotyl internode absent. Mesocotyl absent. Seedling collar not conspicuous. Cotyledon hyperphyll compact; non-assimilatory. Coleoptile present. First leaf dorsiventral. Primary root persistent to ephemeral (with abundant laterals, but soon destroyed).

Physiology, biochemistry. Not cyanogenic. Alkaloids typically present (colchicine and related compounds). Proanthocyanidins absent. Flavonols absent. Ellagic acid absent. Saponins/sapogenins absent. Inulin recorded (Gibbs 1974). C3 physiology recorded directly in Gloriosa. Anatomy non-C4 type (Gloriosa).

Geography, cytology. Holarctic, Paleotropical, and Cape. Temperate. Europe, 429,1 430,2/4/6/8 Mediterranean, to Central Asia and North India, centred on the summer rainfall regions of southern Africa. X = 5–12(–19). Supposed basic chromosome number of family: 11.

Taxonomy.Subclass Monocotyledonae. Dahlgren et al. Superorder Liliiflorae; Liliales. APG 3 core angiosperms; Superorder Lilianae; non-commelinid Monocot; Order Liliales.

Species about 200. Genera about 20; Androcymbium, Anguillaria, Baeometra,Burchardia (? — lacking colchicine and related compounds), Colchicum,Gloriosa, Hexacyrtis, Iphigenia, Littonia, Neodregea,Onixotis, Ornithoglossum, Sandersonia, Wurmbea, etc. (Dahlgren et al. 1985).


  • Technical details: Colchicum.
  • Colchicum autumnale (B. Ent.).
  • Littonia, Wurmbea, Sandersonia (Chittenden).
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