COMMON NAME:  fritillary
GENUS:  Fritillaria
F. imperialis-large {3 feet}; red or yellow. F. meleagris-April; 12 inches; white or checkered purple and maroon.
FAMILY:  Liliaceae
BLOOMS:  spring
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  The largest of the fritillaries is the Crown Imperial {F. imperialis}. It has unusual large red or yellow flowers {sometimes as many as eight to ten to a stem} and grows to be 3 feet tall. The blossoms are nodding and bell shaped, the leaves long and narrow.
CULTIVATION:  Fritillaries are sometimes difficult to establish and are not hardy in extremely northern regions. They like well-drained, sandy soil and full sun or partial shade. Plant the bulbs 8 inches deep for F. imperialis, or 4 inches deep for F. meleagris, in the fall. They may need lifting and dividing every two to three years. Forget trying to grow them from seed; it takes four to six years to get blooms.

Fritillaries have many common names. Many species are native to Persia {called Iran today} and are thus called Persian lilies. Fritillary was cultivated for many years in urkey and was brought to Europe, where it became very popular. Often called Crown Imperial, fritillary was said to have first bloomed in Europe in the garden of an Austrian emperor. By 1572 the plant was found blooming near Orleans and was taken to England by the Huguenots fleeing France.
Londoners loved this large, unusual-looking lily, and its popularity grew quickly. Its unique appearance gave rise to many common names. Sullen lady, drooping tulip, and drooping young man all referred to the act that the flowers hang down. Toad’s head, snake flower, turkey eggs, and snake’s head fritillary allude to the unusual appearance of the flower when in bud. The checkered appearance of F. meleagris gave rise to names like leopard lily, leper’s lily, Lazarus bell, guinea hen flower, and checkered bell. The botanical names also refer to the unusual shape and markings, for the genus name is from the Latin word fritillus, meaning “a dice cup,” and meleagris means “guinea hen,” suggesting that the blossoms resemble the speckled feathers of the hen.
Rubbing the bulb produces a most unpleasant odor, somewhat like a fox’s den. For this reason the flower is sometimes called stink lily. This bulb is poisonous when raw, though the Persians are said to have eaten the bulbs after boiling them.
At the base of the blossoms there generally lies a drop of nectar. Folktales and superstitions have suggested that this is not nectar, but a single tear drop. Stories of how this tear appeared vary greatly from one country to another. Persian folktales tell of a beautiful queen who was unjustly accused by her husband of being unfaithful. An angel took pity on this poor lady and changed her into this flower, but the flower, too, will cry until the queen and her husband are reunited in love.

According to another story the fritillary holds tears within its blooms because it refused to bow its head when Christ passed on Good Friday. Now the tears are there forever and will not fall even in strong winds or when shaken.