Tuesday, 8 April 2014


Let me start by clarifying the topic. Charming and interesting though Fritillary butterflies are, I am referring to the flowers.

Like Dog's Tooth Violets, to which I referred a few blogs ago (29 March), Fritillaries are members of the Lily Family. The genus Fritillaria consists of about 130 species, most of which are found in Europe and Asia plus a few (about 20 species) in North America. I am very fond of this genus and have, over the years, grown - with only partial success - Fritillaria uva-vulpis, F persica and F. michaelovskii. Vexingly, the least attractive of these, F. uva-vulpis, is still with me, but does not really flourish.

We have only one native Fritillary in Britain but it is a very attractive one - the Snake's Head Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris. In his 1930 "Flora of Northamptonshire" George Claridge Druce gives five locations for the species, although the precise sites are not clear. Much more recently the 2012 "Flora of Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough", by Gill Gent and Rob Wilson is able to add further locations but all are, to some extent, under suspicion of being deliberate introductions. I have seen a colony occupying a natural-looking setting in grassland beside Pitsford Reservoir; again they are suspect. The species is still to be found as a genuinely wild plant at a number of locations in southern England as far north as Staffordshire, favouring damp pasture and meadowland. My friend Oliver Tynan has a flourishing colony in a suitably damp lawn. Strange therefore that when I grew it successfully in Northampton it was on a south facing slope in stony ground, parched in the summer; it produced copious seed every year and spread steadily.

Fritillaria meleagris in Oliver Tynan's garden.
Byfield, 8 April, 2014
...and the white form.

Snake's Head Fritillaries generally have a chequered purple coloration. A white form is also very common but often bears a trace of purple staining.

Now for the annoying species - the Crown Imperial, Fritillaria imperialis. I have, three time in recent years, planted bulbs of this gorgeous species in what I felt were suitable positions in my back garden. However, they were under constant attack from Lily Beetle, Lilioceris lilii and, after a couple of years, succumbed. For my friend Russ Mallace they flourish wonderfully in a back garden where, he cheerfully admits, they receive no attention. 

The yellow form of Crown Imperial in a hedgerow,
The Twistle, Byfield. 7 April, 2014

Most trying of all, a hedgerow along The Twistle, on the edge of Byfield, hosts a fine colony from what appear to have been bulbs or plants simply thrown out, unwanted! But do I whinge? You bet I do!

...and a closer look

Like the Snake's Head Fritillary, the Crown Imperial comes in two colour forms, a rust-orange and a clear primrose yellow. If they have a fault (apart from being irresistible to Lily Beetles) it is the odd, foxy smell of their flowers - which bothers me not at all.

I find that there is a species called Fritillaria byfieldii which, as an inhabitant of Byfield, caught my interest. It is apparently a rare Turkish species and a trawl of the internet failed to produce any images. (There is also an orchid, Lepanthes byfieldii, named after the Jamaican forestry worker who discovered it. It may not be in cultivation - unsurprising as the flowers are only 5 mm long and usually borne only one at a time.)

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