Fritillaria- Snake’s Head Fritillary & Crown Imperial


The Frittillaria (fritilla’ria) are hardy bulbs which are widely distributed in the North Temperate Zones. They are also called Fritillary. They belong to the Lily family, Liliaceae, and have bell-shaped pendent flowers, most of which are curiously marked with streaks or blotches of various colors. These bulbs do great along with tulips and other spring bulbs.

crown imperial fritilleria

Crown Imperial Fritilleria

There are two distinct groups of Fritillarias. The Crown Imperial, F. imperialis, grows about 3 ft. High and bears yellow, orange-red or red flowers in clusters on the tops of the stems.

The Meadow or Snake’s Head Fritillaries average size is 10” in height and bears their flowers singly at the ends of the stems. The name Fritillaria is derived from ‘fritillus’, a chessboard, and alludes to the checkerboard coloring of the flowers.

Planting Requirements

The Crown Imperial, especially the tall kinds, F. Imperalis and its varieties, require deep, rich

fritilleria Meleagris

Snake's Head Fritilleria

soil. The site is prepared by digging out the topsoil to the depth of 12” and forking well-decayed manure into the subsoil. The topsoil is then replaced and the bulbs are planted 6“ deep and 8” apart, in October. The position should be shaded or at least sheltered from the midday sun. The bulbs should not be disturbed if they bloom well, for they become established rather slowly.

Rock Gardens

The dwarf kinds are ideal for cultivating in the rock garden. They should be planted in October, 6” apart and 3 to 4” deep. A slightly shady position is required and the soil should be sandy loam. The bulbs should not be disturbed unnecessarily. Fritillarias can also be cultivated in pots. They are potted in October, one bulb of the large-flowered kins being placed in a 6” pot and three bulbs of the smaller kinds in a 5” pot. The pots of bulbs are kept in a cold frame during the winter and brought into a very cool greenhouse to flower in the spring. The soil is kept moist until the flowers have withered, when water is gradually withheld, and when the foliage has died down the soil is kept dry until the autumn.

The Snake’s Head Fritillaries may be naturalized in grass and in open spaces among trees and shrubs. They make beautiful displays in the landscape in April.

How to Propagate Fritillaries

fritilleria offsets

Fritilleria Offsets

Propagation of fritillaries is by offsets. The smaller bulbs are either potted or are planted in a reserve border in October. Plant may also be raised by sowing seeds in posts of sandy soil as soon as they are ripe. The pans are covered with a pane of glass and set in a cold frame until germination takes place. When the seedlings are large enough for transplanting they are pricked out into boxes an eventually transplanted to the open ground. Seedlings take from four to six years to produce flowers.

The Best Varieties:

F. imperialis (Crown Imperial), 3 ft. Tall, yellow, and blooms in April. There are also a couple of varieties that have red and orange-red flowers. F. meleagris (Snake’s Head), 12“ tall, purple, and blooms in April also. It can also be found with purple to silvery gray flowered varieties.

Other varieties are: F. lanceolata, 2 ft., with purple and yellow, F. pudica, 6”, yellow, and F. pyrenaica, 18 in.,with purple flowers, F. recurva, 12”, yellow and scarlet, F. pluriflora, the Adobe Lily, 12”, pinkish-purple. All bloom in spring.

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