Fritillaries appeal to those who have a soft spot for odd
flowers and colors. The genus is part of the lily family and
includes more than 100 species, many of which are hardy only
in warmish zones. That said, fritillary hardiness is not an
ironclad science. The same species can be listed as quite
hardy (e.g., to American zone 3/Canadian zone 4), or mildly
hardy (e.g., to American zone 6/Canadian zone 7). Cultural
requirements vary, but most prefer well-drained soil in full
sun, perhaps with a bit of shade during the hottest part of
The most dramatic fritillary is the crown imperial (Fritillaria
imperialis). You can almost see it growing, emerging with
the daffodils but shooting to about 3' tall, crowned with
almost square-shaped reddish-orange (or yellow) bells and
a topknot of lily-like foliage. Into the spring garden full
of innocent pastels erupts this tall, exotic beauty as though
it wandered into the wrong party by mistake.
magnificent crown imperial fritillary (Fritillaria
imperialis) in full bloom.
Because it is part of the lily family, the crown imperial
is subject to lily beetles, which could be considered a strike
against it. However, on the bright side, you can use it as
a trap plant for lily beetles and thereby protect later-emerging
lilies. Regular search-and-destroy missions I conducted last
year on crown imperials resulted in absolutely no lily beetle
damage later that summer.
Despite its size, the crown imperial's foliage dies back
very quickly, making it an extremely accommodating bulb for
the perennial border. In fact, its only drawback for some,
though it doesn't bother me, is the bulb's slightly skunk-like
scent. This may be why deer and rodents leave it alone.