THE SNAKES HEAD FRITILLARY - Fritillaria meleagris



The Snake's Head Fritillary is a darling amongst late spring bulbs but it happens to be a bit of an oddity. Despite its exotic appearance this intractably patterned plant is a native to Great Britain and unlike most bulbs – whose natural habitats tend to be nutrient poor soils with low moisture availability – this species prefers the damp environments of traditional meadows and pastures.

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, meadows of fritillaries were common place around Britain but many of these areas were seriously affected during the “Ploughing for Victory” campaign of the Second World War. In an attempt to further increase food production much of our boggy pasture-land was drained for agricultural use and this significantly reduced the overall number of sites which could support these beautiful plants.

Today there are only three sites remaining - notably in Oxfordshire - where you can still find the Snake’s Head fritillary in its natural habitat.

Although now a protected species and rarely found in the wild the Snakes Head Fritillary is readily available from cultivated stock either as bulbs in late autumn or as pot grown stock in the spring. In the garden they are tolerant of most soil types so long as they are kept moist.

However, if you intend to naturalise them you should try for a neutral to slightly alkaline soil in a sunny or partially shaded position. If the soil is too free draining add plenty of humus such as leaf mould, but the most important condition that is required for successful naturalisation is to not allow them to dry out over the spring and summer period.

If you are growing Snake Head Fritillary from bulbs then you should get them in the ground as soon as possible - before the worst of the winter weather arrives. Plant them to a depth of approximately 4-5 inches, again adding plenty of humus. The delicately purple, pink and white chequered flowers - which are both hermaphrodite and self-fertile - should appear from April to May on stems of around 12 inches high.

For further reading on native plants click onto:
Dracunculus vulgaris - The Dragon Lily
How to Grow Native Wild Primroses and Polyanthus from Seed
How to Propagate and Grow Mistletoe
How to Propagate Box Hedging
How to Propagate the Snake's Head Fritillary
Native Pond Plants
Old English Plants - Polyanthus 'Gold Lace'
The 'Native Trees' of England

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