Snakeshead in the grass; native or imposter?

Fritillaria meleagris L. in the family Liliaceae,  is one of the most enchanting of British wild flowers. Common names include Snakeshead Fritillary, Guinea Hen Flower, Chequer Lily, Chess Flower, Leper Lily and Lazarus Bells. The name Fritillaria comes from the latin word frutilus, meaning dicebox, referring to the chequered petal markings and the name meleagris, means spotted like the guinea fowl.

It is a bulbous perennial, identified by linear leaves almost all on the stem, a cup shaped, pendant, purple or occasionally white, chequered flower appearing in March-May, followed by an erect capsule for fruit. Stace’s Flora (2010) describes the species as ‘doubtfully native’. Fritillaries have been cultivated as garden ornamentals since Tudor times (1485-1603) (http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Fritillaria-meleagris.htm). However the first wild recording of Fritillaria meleagris was not until 1736 making it a possible candidate for a garden escapee.

Fritillaria meleagris can be found growing in damp, neutral meadows in southern England but is becoming infrequent in the wild and is described as nationally scarce on the national UK red list http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-3354. It is commonly found in cultivation in gardens for its distinctive and unmistakeable petal markings. On whiteknight Campus Fritillaria meleagris could at one time be found near the Zuckerman Research Centre and were thought to be native here. They are now extinct in this location but they have been planted under the Strawberry Tree near Park House and under a Swamp Cypress tree at the southern end of Whiteknights Lake.

About emmaj

I am an MSc student at University of Reading with an interest in conservation, medicinal and ornamental plants
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