Crown Imperials – Fritillaria

The Crown Imperials are those we know best, though this only represents the species Imperalis, so attractive in the garden and so popular as a cut flower. This is a plant that is extremely partial to lime, in fact in the limestone areas of the East Cotswolds a dwarf species, F. meleagris, may be found growing naturally in meaciows during late April and early May. It is known to country folk as the Snake’s-head Lily. The fact that the Fritillarias bloom throughout May makes them a most valuable plant for herbaceous border or rockery, where they should be planted in clusters towards the front of the border or at the back of a rockery, whilst several of them can be naturalized to good effect. Especially are F. meleagris and F. pyrenaica delightful when planted in an orchard where the grass is not cut before the beginning of July.

Crown Imperials - Fritillaria


The fritillarias enjoy a deeply dug soil and one containing plenty of humus, The bulbs appreciate anything which will ensure a cool, moist soil during summer Old mushroom-bed compost is ideal, so is hop manure and some peat. The plants must have plenty of moisture when making growth during late spring, but must have a well-drained soil otherwise the bulbs may decay during an excessively wet winter. It is advisable to plant the large bulbs on beds of sand to encourage drainage while a mulch with rotted manure or peat after flowering will help to retain soil moisture during summer. When preparing the soil do not neglect the addition of lime rubble where this is not present in the natural form.

The bulbs should be planted 6 in. deep in September or earlier if the soil is heavy and a strong root run is required before winter.

Deep planting will prevent the bulbs from drying out during a period of drought. They should be left undisturbed for several years for they do not like undue disturbance. When it is necessary to lift and divide the clumps the small bulblets should be removed and planted into beds of peat and sand where they will in twelve months attain flowering size and be ready for their permanent quarters. This is a better method than growing from seed which takes five years until the plants reach flowering size. If it is required to grow from seed, this should be sown as soon as ripe in pans of a pure peat and sand mixture, the seedlings being transferred to individual pots as soon as large enough to handle.


  • Fritillaria citrina. This is a delightful dwarf species from Asia Minor, a perfect rockery plant bearing lemon yellow flowers throughout May.
  • F. Imperialis. The Crown Imperial which bears a cluster of yellow, bronze or orange flowers on black lily-like stems at a height of about 2 ft. Flowering during July, it enjoys partial shade.
  • F. meleagris. Producing its dainty drooping bell-shaped blooms on 12-in. stems during early summer, it is at its best in the orchard and wild garden planted in groups, the lovely pure white alba, being enchanting when planted with the deep purple nigra. There is also a form, praecox, which blooms early in April. Other than these of the white variety, the blooms are attractively chequered with pale mauve.
  • F. pontica. Another lovely rock garden plant producing its green, shaded rose-pink flowers during April and early May.
  • E. pudica. A delightful little rockery plant producing its charming little bells of purest golden yellow on only 4-in. stems through the springtime.
  • F. pyrenaica. The easiest of all the fritillarias to grow and perhaps the most beautiful. From the Pyrenees, and bears its purplish bell-shaped blooms, shaded green inside, throughout May on 2-ft. Stems.

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