Hardiness Zone: 3-8
Flower Color: Checkered white, purple, reddish-brown, gray
Foliage type: Linear, lance-shaped, grass-like green leaves
Bloom time: April
Height: 15 inches
Spread: 24 inches, but may naturalize
Light requirements: Full sun
Plant depth: 3 inch of soil over rhizome
See "Growing Tips" for more detailed instructions
Growing Tips and Instructions
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Fritillaria meleagris is one of about 100 species in the genus Fritillaria, a group of herbaceous bulbs in the lily family (Lilaceae). The name meleagris means “spotted like a guinea fowl”. With common names including guinea hen flower, leper lily, chess flower, frog-cup, chequered lily, and snake’s head fritillary, this species is rarely found in the wild but is commonly grown as an ornamental in gardens. Native to grassy flood plains and meadows of Europe from southern England to Russia, these bulbs are hardy in zones 3-8. They are one of the less commonly grown small spring bulbs but have been cultivated for centuries – it was a regular feature in Elizabethan gardens, dating back to at least 1572.
In the spring grassy, widely-spaced alternate leaves are produced from the small Fritillaria bulbs, tightly encircling the flower buds. The plants have a loose, open growth habit, and the light-grey foliage twists and turns, often laying on the ground (sort of like tiny snakes) or may stand upright 6-12 inches tall. The thin foliage dies back in early summer as soon as seed pods have ripened.
Easily grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Prefers sun-dappled light shade. Place the button-shaped bulbs 3” deep and space 3-4” apart in spring or fall. Placing them on their sides will help to avoid water collecting in the hollow crowns and prevent the bulbs from rotting. Plants need consistent moisture throughout the growing season. Foliage should be allowed to die back naturally (by late spring) as the bulbs go dormant.
This small bulb is right at home with other spring bulbs in cultivated beds, cottage gardens, rock gardens, and moist sandy meadows, but it can be hard to site them so as to be easily observed. Because the plants are relatively small, place them in groups near the front of the border or where the tiny flowers can be viewed up close to appreciate the subtle designs; from a distance the flowers don’t show up well because of the dark coloring. The small, dark (described as “gothic” by some) flowers contrast well with small brightly colored daffodils such as ‘Tete-a-Tete’ or ‘Jetfire’) or other small spring bulbs. Guinea hen flower combines well with marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), astilbe, columbine, Pulmonaria, and other plants that prefer soils on the moister side.
Because of its slender profile, Fritillaria can easily be tucked in among perennials and won’t leave large gaps in the garden like clumps of daffodils or tulips would. It can be used in masses or sprinkled throughout an area. Under ideal conditions this bulb will multiply and naturalize, spreading readily by seed, but they are not considered invasive.