(Meadow Saffron)

Colchicum autumnale (meadow saffron, autumn crocus, naked ladies). A member of the plant family LILIACEAE. Perennial plant growing from a bulb or corm, from which emerge long dark green leaves and green capsules in spring. In autumn pale mauve or white tubular flowers appear, borne at the end of long stems.


[affected.gif] Animals most affected
Cattle, sheep, occasionally horses and pigs.


[etiology.gif] Etiology
Ingestion of the young leaves (in spring), fruit capsules or flowers (in autumn) may result in poisoning. Consumption is usually minimal (or insignificant) but in certain ill defined circumstances, massive ingestion of the plant has been reported.
Treatment with certain herbicides (e.g. phenoxyacids: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T) renders the plant more palatable and is likely to increase the incidence of poisoning.


[toxic.gif] Toxicity
Contains the alkaloids colchicine and colchiceine. Both alkaloids withstand storage, drying and boiling. The seeds are highly toxic.

Toxic oral doses:
TD colchicine 1 mg/kg for most animals
  fresh plant material 8-10 g/kg in cattle

Note:intestinal absorption of colchicine is slow, delaying the onset of clinical effects and the sequence of their presentation; the alkaloids may pass into milk, albeit to a small degree; it is therefore advisable not to use the milk from affected animals.


[clinical.gif] Clinical features
Delayed in their onset, appearing several hours to 2 days post-ingestion.

Severe gastrointestinal effects

Neurological effects

Various other clinical effects


[lesions.gif] Lesions
Non-specific: pronounced gastroenteritis with severe congestion of the rumen, the small intestine, occasionally exhibiting erosions of the mucosae, ulceration and haemorrhages.


[treatm~1.gif] Treatment
No antidote. Symptomatic care only:



[case.gif] Case summaries
A group of cows and sheep were put out to graze in the grounds (approximately 100 hectares) of a large country house. The animals were left unsupervised for several days; when the farmer returned to check his stock, he found that two of his cows had died and a third had severe dysentery and was badly dehydrated, with sunken eyes.
Enquiries revealed that the field had been sprayed earlier in the season with 2,4-D. In addition, numerous toxic plants were found growing in the same area. Analysis of the ruminal contents of one of the dead cows revealed fruit capsules of colchicum (however only a few whole capsules were visible as they were mostly reduced to pulp). 2,4-D poisoning is different in its presentation. It is a compound of low toxicity, causing different clinical features and, in this case, the amount sprayed was not toxicologically significant. However the use of the agrochemical had definitely influenced the incidence of poisoning by increasing the palatability of colchicum, a plant which is normally ignored or avoided by grazing animals.