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Fritillaria meleagris

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Fritillaria meleagris is a Eurasian species of flowering plant in the lily family.<ref>Pavlov, N.V. (ed.) (1958). Flora Kazakhstana 2: 1-290. Alma-Ata, Izd-vo Akademii nauk Kazakhskoi SSR.</ref><ref>Malyschev L.I. & Peschkova, G.A. (eds.) (2001). Flora of Siberia 4: 1-238. Scientific Publishers, Inc., Enfield, Plymouth.</ref><ref>Altervista Flora Italiana, genere Fritillaria</ref> Its common names include snake's head fritillary, snake's head (the original English name), chess flower, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, guinea flower, leper lily (because its shape resembled the bell once carried by lepers), Lazarus bell, chequered lily, chequered daffodil, drooping tulip or, in northern Europe, simply fritillary.<ref>BBC Nature</ref>


The name Fritillaria comes from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box, possibly referring to the chequered pattern on the flowers<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> although this derivation has been disputed.<ref name=POI>http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/fritillaria.htm</ref> The name meleagris means "spotted like a guineafowl".<ref name="RHS">Template:Cite web</ref> The common name "snake's head" probably refers to the somewhat snakelike appearance of the nodding flower heads on their long stems. Vita Sackville-West called it "a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay".<ref name=POI />

Description and habitat

The flower has a chequered pattern in shades of purple, or is sometimes pure white.<ref name="RHS"/> It flowers from March to May and grows between Template:Convert in height. The plant has a button-shaped bulb, about 2 cm in diameter, containing poisonous alkaloids. It grows in grasslands in damp soils and river meadows at altitudes up to Template:Convert.


Fritillaria meleagris is native to Europe and western Asia but in many places it is an endangered species that is rarely found in the wild but is commonly grown in gardens. In Croatia, the flower is known as kockavica and is associated by some with the country's national symbol.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> It is the official flower of the Swedish province of Uppland, where it grows in large quantities every spring at the meadows in Kungsängen (Kings meadow), just outside Uppsala, which gives the flower its Swedish name, kungsängslilja (Lily of Kings meadow). It is also found for example in Sandemar Nature Reserve, a nature reserve west of Dalarö in Stockholm Archipelago.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom there is some disagreement amongst botanists as to whether F. meleagris is a native species or a long-established garden escapee. The plant was first described in the 16th century by herbalist John Gerard who had only known of it as a garden plant and it was not recorded in the wild until 1736, which has led some to argue that it must be an escapee.<ref name="Mabey">Template:Cite web</ref> However, the fact that its habitat is usually confined to ancient hay meadows and it does not easily spread to adjoining land, leads others to the conclusion that it is a native species which became isolated from the European population when Britain was cut off from mainland Europe after the last glacial period.<ref name="Mabey"/> Clive Stace (2010) says that it is "doubtfully native".<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

The plant was once abundant in the UK, particularly in the Thames Valley and parts of Wiltshire, and was collected in vast quantities to be sold as a cut flower in the markets of London, Oxford and Birmingham. During World War II most of the ancient meadows were ploughed up and turned over to the production of food crops, destroying much of the plant's habitat.<ref name="Mabey"/> Although a popular garden plant it is now rare in the wild, although there are some notable sites where it is still found, such as the meadows at Magdalen College, Iffley Meadows,<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Oxford and the Oxfordshire village of Ducklington,<ref name="Mabey"/> which holds a "Fritillary Sunday" festival<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> It is also found in the North Meadow National Nature Reserve, Wiltshire, Clattinger Farm Nature Reserve, Wiltshire<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and Fox Fritillary Meadow and Mickfield Meadow nature reserves in Suffolk.<ref name=sssiffm>Fox Fritillary Meadow, Framsden, SSSI citation, Natural England. Retrieved 2013-05-30.</ref><ref name=swtffm>Fox Fritillary Meadow, Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 2013-05-30.</ref><ref name=sssimm>Mickfield Meadow, SSSI citation, Natural England. Retrieved 2013-05-30.</ref> In 2002 it was chosen as the County flower of Oxfordshire following a poll by the wild flora conservation charity Plantlife.<ref>Plantlife website County Flowers page Template:Webarchive</ref>


Now easily available as an ornamental spring bulb for the garden, it is commonly sold as a mixture of different coloured cultivars. The species<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and the pure white-flowered variety F. meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Like many plants in the lily family, F. meleagris is susceptible to the scarlet lily beetle, which can seriously damage or kill it.

Notes and references


External links

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