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Fritillary

Fritillaria meleagris

Months

Season

Colour

How to spot it

Serpentine and glamorous, Fritillary is a dark purple (and sometimes white) wildflower is also known as the “Snake’s-head”.

Where to spot it

Fritillary grows in wet meadows, particularly traditional hay meadows that often flood in winter months. Some of the best-known Fritillary fields are in Oxfordshire, along the flood-meadows of the Thames including Magdalen Meadow in the heart of the university city.

How’s it doing?

Once thousands of Fritillary filled flooded hay meadows across middle and southern England. However, modern agricultural practices – particularly draining land in order to grow crops – has led to a sharp decline.

Things you might not know

  • Fritillary is the County Flower of Oxfordshire.
  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises persecution.
  • Fritillaries were only officially recorded growing in the wild in 1736, so there is some debate as to whether they are native or not. It may be that they spread from foreign plants in the Tudor or Jacobean garden. It is therefore worth scrutinizing the neighbourhood of Fritillary fields for evidence of large gardens at some time in the past.
  • The names show how the Frillary has suggested blood, death, snakes and sorrow. Besides Snake’s head Fritillary, other evocative names are Bloody warrior, Doleful bells of sorrow, Drooping tulip, Five-leaved grass, Guinea-hen flower, Toad’s head, Turkey’s eggs and Weeping widow.
  • Fritillaries are fertilised by bumble-bees.
  • These snaky beauties are in fact poisonous containing an alkaloid called Imperialine.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum