Wednesday April 8 2020

Or Fritillaria meleagris

This bewitching plant is a British native and is slowly unfurling throughout the Red House garden. The name refers to its physiology, how the stem pushes up and reveals a slender bell shaped flower that initially resembles a snake, but soon widens out to reveal a chequer board pattern in shades of purple with the occasional beautiful white sport. Back in the autumn I was joined by volunteers Sally and Rosemary and spent the day planting out several hundred bulbs in the orchard which was a challenge due to the thick thatch of the grass.

Sally, Penny and Rosemary bulb planting in the orchard, October 2019.

Fritillaries are part of the Liliaceae family and they are found throughout Europe, stretching from the Mediterranean to East Asia and often display distinctive architectural flowers in early spring.

Snake’s Head Fritillary in the orchard.

The story of this plant is fascinating and provides an insight into our sociological history.  Not recorded until Tudor times, when it was commonly known as the leper lily, in reference to flowers which resembled the bells which lepers were obligated to carry, there are now several protected sites across the country which have a glorious display at this time of year.

Snake’s Head Fritillary in the courtyard.

Yellow Snake’s Head Fritillary in the orchard.

Notable sites

Magdalen College Meadow, Oxford

Fox Fritillary Meadow Nature Reserve, Suffolk

Detail of the patterns on the petals by Alice Foreman while visiting Fox Fritillary Meadow Nature Reserve.