Bell-shaped beauty of fritillarias: springtime showstopper blooms


Fritillaria is a genus of spring-blooming bulbs from the lily family. There are over 100 species of fritillarias, also called fritillaries or frits, ranging in size from small, delicate bulbs to large, showy plants. Many fritillarias are prized for their striking, bell-shaped flowers and unique patterns. In this blog post, I will explore some interesting facts about fritillarias and how to grow them in your garden.

What are frits?


Fritillarias are known for their distinctive flowers, which can range in color from deep purples and reds to soft pinks and yellows. The flowers are typically bell-shaped, with six tepals (similar sepals and petals) that are arranged in a striking checkerboard pattern. They are usually borne singly or in clusters at the top of the stem.


Fritillaria plants have basal leaves that are typically large and lance-shaped, and they grow directly from the bulb. Some species also have smaller, more slender stem leaves.


Fritillarias have a single, leafless stem that emerges from the center of the basal leaves. The stem may be tall and slender, or short and stocky, depending on the species.


Fritillarias grow from bulbs that are often large and irregularly shaped, with a rough, papery outer layer. The bulbs may be covered in a fine, white powder.

The most frequently cultivated fritillarias

There are many species of fritillarias that are cultivated, but some of the most commonly grown include:

  1. Fritillaria imperialis: Commonly known as the crown imperial, this species produces large, showy flowers on tall stems. The flowers are typically orange, but yellow and red cultivars are now available. It grows to a height of 2-3 feet and prefers well-draining soil in a sunny location.
  2. Fritillaria meleagris: Also known as the snake’s head fritillary, this species produces delicate, bell-shaped flowers in shades of purple, pink, and white. It grows to a height of 6-12 inches and prefers moist, well-draining soil.
  3. Fritillaria persica: Also known as the Persian fritillary, this species from the Middle East produce large and bell-shaped flowers, measuring up to 4 inches across. They are typically a deep purple color, although there are also pink and white cultivars available. The flowers are borne singly or in small clusters at the top of a slender stem, up to 4 feet tall.
  4. Fritillaria uva-vulpis: Also known as the fox’s grape fritillary, this species produces small, bell-shaped flowers in shades of purple or pink. It grows to a height of 6-12 inches and prefers well-draining soil in a sunny or partially shaded location.
  5. Fritillaria michailovskyi: This species produces small, bell-shaped flowers in shades of red, orange, or yellow. It grows to a height of 8-12 inches and prefers well-draining soil in a sunny or partially shaded location.

How to grow frits?

Growing conditions

Fritillarias are relatively easy to grow, and they prefer well-draining soils in full sun to partial shade. They are also tolerant of drought and can be grown in rock gardens or containers. Fritillarias are hardy bulbs that can survive in temperatures as low as -30°F (-34°C), making them a good choice for cold climates. Their hardiness zones range from 4 to 8.

Planting fritillarias

Fritillaria imperialis bulbs should be planted in the fall at a depth of approximately 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm). This depth ensures proper anchoring of the bulb and allows it to receive adequate moisture and nutrients from the soil. Space the bulbs about 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) apart. This spacing allows enough room for the plants to grow and spread without crowding each other. Plant the bulbs with the pointed end facing upwards. The flat or slightly concave side of the bulb should be placed downwards.

Other Fritillaria species should be planted at a depth of 3-4 inches (8-10 cm).

Buying bulbs

The cost of Fritillaria imperialis bulbs can vary depending on factors such as the supplier, bulb size, and region. Generally, Fritillaria imperialis bulbs are considered moderately priced to relatively expensive compared to some other bulb varieties. Newer varieties such as ‘Early Sensation’ may be priced at double the cost. This is why I choose to purchase a few bulbs every year and anxiously wait for clearance sales.

The larger the bulb size, the higher the cost is likely to be. Large-sized bulbs produce more substantial and impressive flowering plants. Smaller-sized bulbs are usually less expensive but may take longer to reach their full size and flowering potential.

Other species of Fritillaria may be relatively more or less expensive but can also be more challenging to find in garden centers. For the moment only F. meleagris and F. persica bloom in my garden.

Propagating frits

Fritillarias can be propagated through division or by planting seeds. To divide fritillaria bulbs, wait until the foliage has died back in the fall, then carefully dig up the bulbs and separate them.

To grow fritillarias from seed, sow the seeds in the fall or early spring in a well-draining soil mix. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and keep them moist until they germinate. Fritillaria species require a period of cold stratification, which means that the seeds need to be exposed to a period of cold temperatures to trigger germination. This process can take several months, and it’s important to ensure that the seeds are kept moist during this time. During the first year, the fritillaria plant will develop a bulb, and in the second year, it will typically produce foliage. In the third year, the plant may produce a flower or two, although some species may take longer to bloom.

Using frits in the garden

Fritillarias are beautiful and unique plants that can add a touch of elegance to any mixed border. Here are some tips on how to use them effectively:

  1. Choose the right variety: There are many different varieties of fritillarias, ranging in height, color, and bloom time. Choose a variety that will complement the other plants in your mixed border and fit well with your garden’s overall style.
  2. Plant in groups: Fritillarias look best when planted in groups of two, three or more. This will create a more impactful display and make the plants stand out in the border.
  3. Plant in the right location: Fritillarias prefer a sunny location with well-draining soil. Make sure to plant them in a spot where they will receive plenty of sunlight and avoid areas that are prone to standing water.
  4. Combine with other plants: Fritillarias look great when combined with other spring-blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils. You can also mix them with perennials.
  5. Consider height: Fritillarias range in height from just a few inches to several feet tall. Be sure to choose a variety that will work well with the other plants in your mixed border and won’t get lost or overshadowed.
  6. Mulch and fertilize: Fritillarias benefit from a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. You can also fertilize them with a balanced fertilizer in the spring to promote healthy growth and blooming. I use granular chicken manure in both Fall when planting and in Spring when established.

Do fritillarias smell bad?

Fritillarias have a unique and often strong fragrance, which can vary depending on the species. Some Fritillaria species are known for their pleasant and sweet scent, while others have a strong and musky odor that some people find unpleasant.

For example, Fritillaria imperialis, also known as the crown imperial, is a species that is often described as having a strong, pungent smell that some people compare to the odor of skunk. This is why I intentionally exclude them from my cut flower arrangements! I have planted them on both sides of my front door, and some visitors have mentioned the strong, pungent smell they emit. To counteract this, I strategically plant hyacinths in front of my beautiful frits!

On the other hand, Fritillaria meleagris, also known as the snake’s head fritillaria, is a species that is prized for its delicate and pleasant aroma.

Are fritallarias deterrent to rodents?

Fritillaria bulbs contain alkaloids that are toxic to rodents, and some gardeners have reported success in using them as a deterrent to rodents like squirrels, mice, and voles. For sure, squirrels tend to leave my tulips and crocuses alone in the borders where I have fritillarias.

However, there is no guarantee that fritillarias will effectively repel rodents, as their effectiveness can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the species of rodents in your area, the size of your garden, and the number of fritillarias you plant.

In conclusion, fritillarias are a beautiful and unique addition to any garden. With their striking flowers and easy care requirements, they are a great choice for both beginner and experienced gardeners. Whether you’re looking for a showy plant to add to your borders or a hardy bulb to survive in harsh climates, fritillarias are definitely worth considering.

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