Fritillaria is one of the more unusual spring blooming bulbs in the garden. With nodding flowers that are either brightly colored, muted or checkered, this group of bulbs is sure to attract some attention.

Fritillaria imperialis or Crown Imperial has one of the more showy blooms in this genus. A ring of bright orange or yellow bell-shaped, nodding flowers are crowned with a tuft of leaves. The 3 foot flower stalks are regal-looking when several are massed together in the garden. Crown Imperial is also resistant to deer and squirrel damage as the bulb and flowers have a "skunky" odor. Needless to say, this is not one of the better bulbs for cut flowers. 'Aurora' and 'Rubra Maxima' have orange-red flowers while 'Lutea Maxima' has yellow flowers.

Guinea Hen or Checkered Lily (Fritillaria meleagris) is vastly different from Crown Imperial. Guinea Hen is not malodorus and is much more delicate in the garden. This 12 to15-inch bulb is noted for its reddish-purple solitary flowers that are mottled with blackish squares giving it a checkered appearance. Pure white flower forms are also available.

Increasing in popularity is the Persian Fritillaria or Fritillaria persica. This 2 to 4-foot bulb has rich, plum-purple nodding flowers along an elongated spike. The flowers contrast nicely with the gray-green foliage.

Fritillaria make great additions to the garden. These long-lived spring bulbs are usually not bothered by pests or disease. Plant them in fall in full-sun to part-shade sites with well-drained soils. Mix them with tulips, daffodils, or grape hyacinths for stunning bulb combinations.

This article originally appeared in the April 12, 2002 issue, p. 41.

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