With so many plants now coming into life, it’s becoming so hard to chose a plant of the week, There’s so many beautiful plants with such fascinating history. So how do I chose? Well it’s just down my what takes my fancy really, can be a plant that’s special to me from the past or a new one that takes my eye or just a plant I love
An that’s the case this week, it’s great to have a small plant that’s also a native of this great isle. It is also a plant that has been on decline in the wild since the Second World War. It’s natural environment is in the Old water meadows, water meadows were an area of lowland grass land that were flooded during the winter rains, both to provide early lush grazing for cattle and also as a first type of flood protection for the nearby towns and cities. These made an ideal environment for so many wonderful wildflowers including Fritillaria meleagris. Sadly during the Second World War and onwards, these wildflower havens where ploughed up to provide more food for the country. Indeed it used to be so prolific that millions were picked every year for cut flowers from its heartland of Wiltshire and round the Thames valley. It still can be found in small pockets along the might Thames, with areas around Oxford being a good bet. Indeed the village of Ducklington, has a festival every year for it. It was also named as the flower for Oxfordshire in 2002.
This delightful plant is just as much at home in a damp border as it is in a meadow. It makes a plant up to 40cm tall with its chequed flowers giving us so much enjoyment at this time of the year. The flowers are also where the plant gets it many common names from including its most popular one, the snakes head fritillary. Others include chess flower (from the pattern on the flower) Guinea-hen flower, Guinea flower (maybe from old currency or the bird?) frog cup, checkered Lilly, checkered daffodil, drooping tulip and the leper Lilly as the flower looks like the bell the lepers used to carry. It’s Latin name fritillaria, is from the Latin word fritillus meaning box like, with most of the genus with flowers that look box shape like. Meleagris means spotted like a Guinea bird. The flowers tend to be borne in a wide range of colours from a deep purple where the chequed board effect is nearly lost to a white form
It is a plant that suffers from very few pests and diseases, the worst one has to be the lily beetle, which loves the foliage on it. Like a few other early bulbs like snowdrops, it’s prefers to be planted in the green, it can be planted as a dry form but do struggle to establish planted like this
There’s some beautiful places to see this plant in the wild around Oxford including magdalen college Oxford. One of the best gardens to see them growing has to be the delightful Waterperries garden, just outside Oxford. A truly beautiful garden