Plant of the Month: May 2022
Fritillaria imperialis is one of the earliest wild flowers to be grown in our gardens. John Gerard (Gerard’s Herbal) grew them in London, England, in the late 1500s. He wrote “…. hath for his root a thick firm and solid bulb, covered with a yellowish film or skin, from the which riseth up a great thick fat stalk two cubits high, in the bare and naked part of a dark overworn dusky purple colour. The leaves grow confusedly about the (lower half of the) stalk like those of the white Lily, but narrower: the flowers grow at the top of the stalk, encompassing it round in form of an Imperial crown” There is a cluster of leaves crowning the ring of flowers. Perdita’s (in Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale”) bouquet has “bold oxlips and the Crown Imperial”.
Fritillaria imperialis early April Mid April
The European Blue Tit is a pollinator.
The first owner of our house planted some here, before 1970. Perhaps in the 1950s. The clump is still here in the same place. I have carefully removed bulbs from the outer edges.
Common Name: Crown Imperial Fritillary, Kaiser’s Crown.
Cultivars: many -
Fritillaria imperialis ‘Rubra maxima’ red-orange.
Fritillaria imperialis ‘Maxima Lutea’ large yellow.
Fritillaria imperialis var. lutea in wild
Fritillaria imperialis ‘Garland Star’ curly leaves, orange red colouring.
The Composer series are shorter. Fritillaria imperialis ‘Chopin’ is 60 cm with small yellow-orange flowers. F. i. ’Brahms’ has salmon-pink flowers.
Fritillaria imperialis ‘Chopin’
Fritillaria imperialis ‘Aureo-marginata’ - yellow and green variegated leaves.
Fritillaria imperialis ‘Kroon op Kroon’ Double layer of bells.
Life Cycle: Perennial bulb.
Height: 0.5 - 1.5m
Bloom Time: Late April - May in Southern Ontario.
Fritillaria imperialis 'Kroon' type in wild
Flower Colour & Size: Ring of perhaps 10, red-orange or yellow, down or slightly outfacing 6-tepelled chunky bells, often dark at the base. The bells are up to 8 cm long. Copious nectar. Stamens exserted.
Scent: Skunk-like smell from bulbs and leaves. Deters deer and rodents.
Stems: Dark green to almost black.
Leaves: Glossy green, lance shaped, on the lower part of the flowering stem, also forming the “crown”.
Range: Central Turkey, east to the Himalayan foothills.
Habitat: Fritillaria imperialis in Iran - screes, clay valley bottoms, grassy areas.
Plant: bulbs 25-30 cm deep, with the tip pointing up. Add a layer of sand compost below your bulb. Ignore the hole left by the dead stalk. Add some compost as you refill.
Light: Full sun to some afternoon shade. Deciduous shade from late opening shrubs is fine.
Soil: Deep and well drained, nutrient medium rich. Mulch in winter.
Water: Water well in active growth. Mulch with compost and add bulb fertilizer as directed. Minimum water in summer when the bulbs are dormant. Summers are hot and dry in their native habitat where the surface soil is very dry, wth some moisture deep down.
USDA Hardiness: Zones 5-9
Companion planting: Other spring bulbs, Hosta, ferns, Forsythia.
Fritillatia imperialis with Forsythia
Propagation: seed, bulb offshoots.
Seedex availability: Occasionally ORG&HPS annual Seed Exchange.
Germination Tips: Fresh seed germinates best. Otherwise, plant and leave pot at 4°C, then 20°C for 3 months each. Repeat cycles. Do not transplant for 2 years. Flowering may be 5 years after germination.
Check for Lily Beetle in the early spring. Hand removal is best.
Gerard’s Herball 1597
Text and images supplied by Anna Leggatt