A perennial favorite from yesteryear.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD
1 old favorite. Pronounced “frit-ah-LAIR-ee-uh,” this bulbous herb is a member of the Liliaceae family. With about 100 species, Fritillarias are among the oldest cultivated plant materials. They have delicate, boxy, pendant blooms and stems that range in height from 8 inches to 36 inches.
2 europe and beyond. Fritillarias are native to temperate regions of western North America, northern Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In many places, including France, Slovenia and Romania, they are endangered and are rarely found in the wild, but they are common in cultivated gardens.
3 many names. The genus name Fritillaria means “dice box,” describing the spotted markings on the dangling, boxlike flowers of the F. meleagris species. In addition to fritillary, checkered lily, guinea hen flower and snake’s head fritillary are common names for this species.
Fritillarias are sometimes associated with death and also have the common names deathbell, Madam Ugly, widow’s veil and drooping tulips. Another species, F. imperialis, is commonly known as crown imperial.
4 harlequin patterns. F. meleagris blossoms have interesting patterns and shapes. Most are checkered reddish-brown, purple, white and gray while some are green, red, orange, yellow and chocolate. F. imperialis flowers are solid-colored—yellow, red-orange or red.
5 spring fling. Fritillarias are available from January through May from Dutch sources although January yields moderate availability. The flowers are most readily available from domestic sources during April and May. Most Fritillarias bloom during midspring.
6 let them show you. Purchase Fritillarias when the flowers are beginning to open and are showing color. If the stems have multiple blossoms, like F. imperialis, select them when some of the flowers are fully open.
7 prep time. Upon receiving these flowers, remove any foliage that will fall below the water line. Cut at least 1 inch off each stem, making sure to remove white portions of the stems. Dip or place the stems into a hydration solution, then place them into a clean container with a solution of fresh flower food. Place the flowers in a floral cooler, at 35 F to 40 F, and allow them to take up water for at least two hours prior to selling or designing with them. Fritillarias are sensitive to ethylene, so check with your wholesaler or supplier to make sure they have been treated with an anti-ethylene treatment.
8 good value. When properly cared for, Fritillarias last for about seven to 10 days. Advise customers to place them in a cool area away from heat sources and not to place them near fruit because ethylene gas will shorten their vase life. In many cases, Fritillarias will dry naturally.
9 repelling factor. Fritillarias are favorites of gardeners because they repel deer and rodents with their foul odor. As cut flowers, they are best used in spaces where people will not be close enough to smell the musky blossoms.
10 legends and lore. Christian lore says that Fritillarias refused to bow their heads at the Crucifixion but, in shame, have bowed them ever since. Even today, when a bloom is touched, it often drops a “tear,” or bead of moisture.
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 28 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. You may contact him by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (415) 239-3140.