How to Grow: Fritillaria

Learn about fritillara bulbs, including varieties how to plant and grow them.

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TFritillaria Imperialis, Lily, Flower, Orange, Naturehis uncommon bulb came to us, as many other bulbs have, from Persia and Turkey. It was grown in the imperial court in Vienna in the 1500s. It was said the flower’s shape resembled an imperial crown. Hence the common name crown imperial. We also know it, as fritillaria.

Crown imperial or Fritillaria imperialis, is a spring flowering bulb that stands 3 feet tall with yellow, orange or red colored flowers depending on the variety. The flowers nod downward and have a tuft of foliage on top. Another common species is the snakeshead fritillaria or Fritillaria meleagris, which only grows 9 inches tall with checkered, red flowers. It’s a common wildflower and great in rock gardens.

While both fritillarias should be grown for their looks alone, the bulb also has the unique characteristic of emitting a foul smell that wards off mice, voles chipmunks and other critters. The smell has been compared to raw meat, skunks, and musty, wet fur. You can try protecting some of your more delicious bulbs, such as tulips and hyacinths, from rodents by interplanting fritillaria in your bulb patch.

Fritillaria bulbs have a concave shape on top, so they are best planted on their sides so moisture doesn’t accumulate on the bulb and rot it. Plant fritillaria now in well-drained soil in a full to part sun location for best flowering. The snakeshead fritillaria grows well in wetter conditions and it will naturalize over time. After a few years you may need to dig up and divide the crown imperial bulbs in spring after they die back. Plant the small bulblets to help the plant spread and replant the main bulb to encourage better flowering.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.