Fritillaria meleagris

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Fritillaria meleagris
Fritillaria meleagris MichaD.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Subfamily: Lilioideae
Tribe: Lilieae
Genus: Fritillaria
F. meleagris
Binomial name
Fritillaria meleagris
  • Lilium meleagris (L.) E.H.L.Krause
  • Fritillaria pallida Salisb.
  • Fritillaria graminifolia Stokes
  • Fritillaria praecox K.Koch
  • Fritillaria major Baker
  • Fritillaria contorta Baker

Fritillaria meleagris is a Eurasian species of flowering plant in the lily family Liliaceae.[2][3][4] Its common names include snake's head fritillary, snake's head (the original English name), chess flower, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, guinea flower, leper lily (because its shape resembled the bell once carried by lepers), Lazarus bell, chequered lily, chequered daffodil, drooping tulip or, in the British Isles, simply fritillary.[5] The plant is a bulbous perennial[6] native to the flood river plains of Europe where it grows in abundance.[7]


The Latin specific epithet meleagris means "spotted like a guineafowl".[8] The common name "snake's head" probably refers to the somewhat snakelike appearance of the nodding flower heads, especially when in bud, on their long stems.

Description and habitat[edit]

The flower has a chequered pattern in shades of purple, or is sometimes pure white.[8] It flowers from March to May and grows between 15–40 cm (6–16 in) in height. The plant has a button-shaped bulb, about 2 cm (0.79 in) in diameter, containing poisonous alkaloids. It grows in grasslands in damp soils and river meadows at altitudes up to 800 m (2,625 ft).


Fritillaria meleagris is native to Europe and western Asia but in many places it is an endangered species that is rarely found in the wild but is commonly grown in gardens. In Croatia, the flower is known as kockavica and is associated by some with the country's national symbol.[9] It is the official flower of the Swedish province of Uppland, where it grows in large quantities every spring in the meadows of Kungsängen (King's Meadow), just outside Uppsala, which gives the flower its Swedish name, kungsängslilja ("king's meadow lily"). It is also found for example in Sandemar Nature Reserve, a nature reserve west of Dalarö in Stockholm Archipelago.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom there is some disagreement amongst botanists as to whether F. meleagris is a native species or a long-established garden escapee that has become naturalised over time. The plant was first described in the 16th century by herbalist John Gerard who had only known of it as a garden plant and it was not recorded in the wild until 1736, which has led some to argue that it must be an escapee.[10] However, the fact that its habitat is usually confined to ancient hay meadows and it does not easily spread to adjoining land, leads others to the conclusion that it is a native species which became isolated from the European population when Britain was cut off from mainland Europe after the last glacial period.[10] Clive Stace (2010) says that it is "doubtfully native".[11]

The plant was once abundant in the UK, particularly in the Thames Valley and parts of Wiltshire, and was collected in vast quantities to be sold as a cut flower in the markets of London, Oxford and Birmingham. During World War II most of the ancient meadows were ploughed up and turned over to the production of food crops, destroying much of the plant's habitat.[10] A popular garden plant, it is now rare in the wild, although there are some notable sites where it is still found, such as the meadows at Magdalen College, Iffley Meadows,[12] Oxford and the Oxfordshire village of Ducklington,[10] which holds a "Fritillary Sunday" festival.[13] It is also found in the North Meadow National Nature Reserve, Wiltshire, Clattinger Farm Nature Reserve, Wiltshire,[14] on Portholme in Cambridgeshire[15] and Fox Fritillary Meadow and Mickfield Meadow nature reserves in Suffolk.[16][17][18] In 2002 it was chosen as the County flower of Oxfordshire following a poll by the wild flora conservation charity Plantlife.[19]


Now easily available as an ornamental spring bulb for the garden, it is commonly sold as a mixture of different coloured cultivars. The species[20] and the pure white-flowered variety F. meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba[21] have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[22]


Like many plants in the lily family, F. meleagris is susceptible to the scarlet lily beetle, which can seriously damage or kill it. But deer and rabbits do not damage the plant.[23]


Fritillaria meleagris is generally disease free.[24]


Fritillaria meleagris is used for landscaping, gardening and horticulture in a variety of planting situations such as in: borders, containers, cottage and informal gardens, woodland gardens, wildflower meadows, rock gardens or naturalized areas.[24][23][25]


Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  2. ^ Pavlov, N.V. (ed.) (1958). Flora Kazakhstana 2: 1-290. Alma-Ata, Izd-vo Akademii nauk Kazakhskoi SSR.
  3. ^ Malyschev L.I. & Peschkova, G.A. (eds.) (2001). Flora of Siberia 4: 1-238. Scientific Publishers, Inc., Enfield, Plymouth.
  4. ^ "Genere Fritillaria - Flora Italiana". Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  5. ^ "Fritillary:Fritillaria meleagris". The Wildflower Garden. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  6. ^ "Fritillaria meleagris - Plant Finder". Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  7. ^ "Fritillaria meleagris - Plant Finder". Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  8. ^ a b Anon. "Gardens:Rosemoor:Fritillaria meleagris". Royal Horticultural Society website. Royal Horticultural Society. Archived from the original on 6 July 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  9. ^ Petrovčić G. (20 May 2006). "Ugrožena kockavica, nacionalni simbol Hrvatske" [Kockavica, the national symbol of Croatia, is endangered]. Vjesnik (in Croatian). Retrieved 8 February 2011.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ a b c d Mabey, Richard; Produced by Susan Marling (10 July 2011). "Snake's Head Fritillary". Mabey in the Wild. Just So radio production for BBC Radio4. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  11. ^ Stace, Clive (2010). New Flora of the British Isles (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 857. ISBN 978-0-521-70772-5.
  12. ^ Anon. "Iffley Meadows". Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  13. ^ Onon. "Fritillary Sunday". St Bartholomew's Church. St Bartholomew's Church. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  14. ^ "Clattinger Farm Wildlife". Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  15. ^ "Portholme - Special Areas of Conservation". Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  16. ^ Fox Fritillary Meadow, Framsden Archived 2015-05-05 at the Wayback Machine, SSSI citation, Natural England. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  17. ^ Fox Fritillary Meadow, Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  18. ^ Mickfield Meadow Archived 2014-04-07 at the Wayback Machine, SSSI citation, Natural England. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  19. ^ Plantlife website County Flowers page Archived 2015-04-30 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Fritillaria meleagris". Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  21. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Fritillaria meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba". Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  22. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 39. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  23. ^ a b "Fritillaria meleagris (Checkered Lily)". Retrieved 5 January 2023.
  24. ^ a b "Fritillaria meleagris | snake's head fritillary Bulbs/RHS Gardening". Retrieved 5 January 2023.
  25. ^ "Fritillaria meleagris - Plant Finder". Retrieved 5 January 2023.

External links[edit]