Delicate, delightful, and whimsical, the Fritillaria flower has been inspiring people for many years. Not only is it a beautiful addition to the landscape, but it’s also a meaningful flower that adds symbolism to the bouquet or floral arrangement. The nodding shape and colorful bell-like blooms are iconic and can be found throughout many works of art. Here we’ll take you through the rich history and origins of Fritillaria flowers, their meaning and symbolism, uses and benefits, plus essential tips for growing and caring for Fritillaria at home.
- The Meaning & Symbolism of Fritillaria Flowers
- About Fritillaria Flowers
- Fritillaria Flower Meaning & Symbolism
- The Cultural Significance of Fritillaria Flowers
- How to Grow and Care for Fritillaria Flowers at Home
- Suitable Gifting Occasions for Fritillaria Flowers
- Wrap Up
- Fritillaria Flower Meaning FAQ
The Meaning & Symbolism of Fritillaria Flowers
Fritillaria flowers carry a multitude of symbolic meanings across cultures ranging from persecution to humbleness or sorrow. It’s also a potent symbol of devotion beyond death, which can add a romantic element if the flower is red.
About Fritillaria Flowers
Family, Genus, and Taxonomy
Fritillaria is a genus containing dozens of flowers that are all closely related. Fritillaria meleagris is the best known and most widely cultivated species. The Fritillaria genus is part of the lily family of Liliaceae.
Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances
Most of the Fritillaria varieties share a common flower type. These flowers are bell-shaped and tend to grow bent over in a nodding or weeping habit. They come in many colors, mostly purple or red in tone. They do have a smell, but it is a musky odor that some people find unpleasant.
What Regions are Fritillaria Flowers Native to?
Fritillaria can be found all over the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not native to most of Europe, but it does grow there now as an introduced wildflower. It is native to Northern Africa, much of Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and the western part of North America.
When are Fritillaria Flowers in Season?
Like most true lilies, Fritillaria bloom in the spring to early summer. However, the bulbs must be planted in the fall to give them time to get established.
History & Origins of Fritillaria Flowers
The Fritillaria flowers grew wild in the Middle East for thousands of years, but they were introduced to Europe as early as the 1500s. They spread rapidly throughout the Western world due to their exotic looks and relative ease of growth.
The name Fritillaria or Fritillary comes from the Latin term fritillus. This term referred to dice cups and dice boxes used in Ancient Rome that were decorated with a checkered pattern.
Popular Types, Species, and Cultivars
Each type and species of Fritillaria can offer a dramatically different look, although they all share a common habit of nodding flowers and singular stems.
Classic checkered snakehead, or Fritillaria meleagris, is the most common and widespread species. Fritillaria imperalis, or the Crown Fritillary, produces a cluster of bright orange blossoms that resembles a crown. Other multi-flowering varieties are also popular.
Uses and Benefits of Fritillaria Flowers
Fritillaria in general are considered non-toxic and safe for planting around pets and children. Some select species are also used in Chinese Traditional Medicine or eaten as an occasional food.
They’re primarily ornamental, although they are attractive to some bees and other pollinators.
Fritillaria Flower Meaning & Symbolism
In addition to being a medicinal and potentially edible plant, Fritillaria is rich with layers of symbolism and meaning.
Common Fritillaria Flower Colors
Few other common ornamental flowers come in such a wide variety of colors and even patterns as the Fritillaria genus. As with all flowers, the exact color affects the specific meaning of the bloom.
- White: Purity, grace, and healing
- Yellow: Joy, warmth, and youth
- Orange: Energy, passion, and success.
- Black: Mourning, sadness, and strength.
- Purple: Wealth, royalty, and elegance.
- Red: Passionate love, romance, and financial success.
- Green: Growth, healing, and new starts.
The Cultural Significance of Fritillaria Flowers
Thanks to their unique checkered patterns and nodding habits, Fritillaria have been catching the eye for thousands of years. These small but beautiful plants have inspired myths and symbolism in many different cultures around the world.
Fritillaria Flowers in Greek Mythology
The specific variety of Fritillaria common to the Mediterranean is the Fritillaria meleagris. It’s the second part of the name that ties this flower to the Greek myth of the warrior Meleager. This name is also shared with the guinea fowl and many other plants that feature a checkered or spotted pattern.
Meleager was a famed warrior that joined the Argonauts that followed Jason. He also helped lead a group of hunters that killed a monstrous boar. The Fates predicted that he would only live as long as a certain piece of wood wasn’t burnt, and for many years his mother guarded the wood to protect him.
After Meleager eventually had to kill his uncles and a brother to protect his love Atalanta, his mother burned the wood and he died. His sisters wouldn’t stop weeping for him, so Artemis transformed them into guinea fowl and they were known as the Meleagrids.
The Fritillaria’s nodding habit naturally linked it to a story so full of sorrow and weeping.
Fritillaria Flowers as a Christian Symbolism
The flower also carried a symbolic meaning for the Christians who encountered it growing wild in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Due to its nodding head, it developed a story that it was the only flower that didn’t bow its head when Jesus passed through the garden of Gethsemane. When an angel whispered to it to remind it, the plant remained bent over forever because of its humility.
This made it a potent reminder to respect God and stay humble before him.
Iran’s Fritillaria Flower Mythology and History
Since Fritillaria grows wild and widespread in Iran in particular, it plays an important cultural role throughout the country’s history.
As with both the Christian and Greek mythology, Fritillaria is assigned a meaning of bowing or weeping to someone important. Various religious and historical figures from Iran’s history have been linked to the flower’s nodding habit.
Thus, it has developed a general meaning of respect and remembrance in that culture.
Fritillaria in the Victorian Language of Flowers
The Crown Imperial Fritillaria was assigned an obvious meaning of majesty and good breeding in the Victorian Language of Flowers.
For the more humble and nodding purple Fritillaria meleagris, the Victorians gave a meaning of persecution due to its connection to Christian imagery. Thus it required careful selection to make sure to use the right Fritillaria variety when following the language of flowers.
How to Grow and Care for Fritillaria Flowers at Home
Fritillaria are surprisingly easy to grow when planted correctly. As with most bulbs, they must be planted in the fall. Varieties are available for USDA zones 5 through 8.
Each variety has a different preference for soil and watering conditions, but they all share a preference for mixed light to full shade.
Few varieties will grow in small containers or hanging baskets, but raised beds and large planters are a good choice. Drier soils and hotter areas call for Mediterranean varieties that prefer those conditions, while Fritillaria from wetter climates can handle colder winters usually. Good drainage is recommended for most varieties except for a few native to swamps.
In general, shade and watering adapted to the specific variety is more important than fertilizer.
Over-fertilizing leads to a lack of blooms. Fresh cut Fritillaria flowers tend to last nearly a week with just daily water changes and careful handling to avoid stem bruising.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Fritillaria Flowers
Due to their shared meanings of remembrance, sorrow, and loss, they’re a good flower to include in funerary and memorial bouquets. Mauve, purple, and dark-colored varieties reinforce this meaning. For a more romantic touch, they can symbolize devotion if red blooms are selected.
Fritillaria flowers are beautiful and surprisingly easy to grow. Add a little symbolism to your landscape by planting them as a memorial for a pet or loved one. They also make a meaningful cut flower gift.
Fritillaria Flower Meaning FAQ
What does fritillary mean?
A Fritillaria flower can mean sorrow, mourning, passion, devotion, humbleness, royalty, or persecution.
How long do Fritillaria blooms last?
The plants bloom for 2 to 4 weeks at a time usually, and the cut flowers last a few days before fading.
What does Fritillaria smell like?
The entire plant has a musky, animal-like odor that can deter mice.
Are fritillary flowers poisonous?
The entire plant is considered non-toxic and some species are edible.
Where do Fritillaria flowers grow natively?
Temperate areas all over the Northern hemisphere host native Fritillaria populations.
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Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.