Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Crown Imperials and Snake Heads

For more years than I care to remember I have loved Crown Imperials, Fritillaria imperialis, whether in the amber or the lemon-yellow form. But I can't grow them. I have tried on numerous occasions but they sulk and, year by year, diminish and disappear. What makes it particularly galling is the fact that beside The Twistle, here in Byfield, someone has thrown away some plants  - the yellow form - and they flourish beneath a hawthorn hedge at the roadside!

Crown Imperials in a Byfield garden,
29 April, 2013
Perhaps I make too much fuss of my specimens for here, in a benignly neglected border in a Byfield garden, they form a splendid clump, increasing year by year. 

The genus consists of about 100 species, all confined to the Northern Hemisphere, with one species native to Britain. Our Snake's Head Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris, is a plant of damp meadows and, although its range has much diminished it may still be found by the thousand in a few protected places. (76,400 plants were counted recently at Iffley Meadows, Oxford - the highest number there since records began.) It may  once have been native to Northamptonshire and Druce, in his 1929 flora of the county, gives four sites for the species, including Purston, near Brackley. It is now extinct in the county. True, a colony exists in damp grassland at the edge of Pitsford Reservoir but it is likely to have been planted. With the usual purple chequered form white specimens sometimes occur.
Fritillaries in a Byfield garden, 30 April, 2013

Most people growing Fritillaries will, in recent years, have been troubled by Lily Beetles. These insects, with the startlingly imaginative name of Lilioceris lilii, were first reported in Britain in Surrey, in 1939. They remained restricted to a small area until the 1980's when, for no obvious reason, they suddenly began to expand their range to become a serious pest. So far I have seen none this year so, hopefully, the harsh winter will have been a setback for them. Time will tell.

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