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Learn all about the royal Fritillaria, on this Focus on Flowers.

A drooping Fritillaria.

Photo: josef.stuefer

If one rubs the bulb of a Fritillaria, it produces an unpleasant odor.

The genus Fritillaria is made up of about 100 species and is part of the lily family.  Fritillaria are natives of Israel, Jordan, and Southern Turkey where they grow wild on rocky slopes.  They usually have long narrow leaves and pendulous bell shaped flowers.  The bulbs should be planted flat side down in a fairly deep hole.

The “Royal” Fritillarias

The largest of the Fritillarias is the “Crown Imperial”, which has large red or yellow flowers and grows three feet tall.  This bulb was taken to England by the Huguenots when they fled from France.

If one rubs the bulb, it produces an unpleasant odor, which is said to resemble that of a fox’s den.  At the base of the blossoms there is a large drop of nectar.

Flower Folklore

According to folklore, this is a tear because the flower refused to bow its head when Jesus passed on Good Friday.  Gertrude Jekyll wrote that in the middle of each flower, the tear drop looked like a natural pearl, but was of a soft liquid substance.  She described this flower as the most strange of all flowers.

The fritillary bulbs are available from catalogs and garden centers for fall planting and spring bloom.  The bulbs do not persist well in areas with very cold winters, but some gardeners love the exotic effect they provide in the spring display of flowering bulbs.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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