This week I was planning to do a group of three related species. There was so much information on one species and not enough on another and I have changed my mind, some plants deserve an article all their own. The plant I have chosen is not very common here, but when you see it you will want it. Just yesterday in my research I stumbled across a entry about how this plant has been stolen from a well known public garden here in B.C. and the effect that can have on other people including students. The plant I am referring to is the ‘Crown Imperial‘ (Fritillaria imperialis).
The Crown Imperial comes to us by the route so many plants have followed, through Constantinople, in 1576 a plant was collected in Persia. From there a sample was taken by Clusius to the Imperial Collection in Vienna. In Vienna it is said to be given it’s common name by Alphonsus Pancus because it was grown in the Imperial Gardens there. Another version says it was named because it has ‘the true shape of the Imperial Crown’.
Fritillaria imperialis are mainly native to south east Turkey but is found through western Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally resting in Kashmir. It is now found at 1000-3000 m(3300-9000ft) growing on rocky slopes and in the scrub. In earlier times the orange-red blossoms where used as a source of dye coloring for the rugs which were made in the area.
Many historians feel that the Fritillaria imperialis was the plant refered to in the Greek myth of Hyacinthus. Hyacinthus was a beautiful young man, (possibly a Spartan Prince) who the god Apollo admired. It was said that Apollo accidentally killed Hyacinthus when they were taking turns throwing a discus. Hyacinthus wanted to impress Apollo by running and catching the discus and instead was struck by it and died. Another form of the myth says that Zephyr, god of the west wind was feuding with Apollo over Hyacinthus, when Apollo threw the discus Zephyr blew it off course which caused the accident.
As Crown Imperials have been in cultivation such a long time, several varieties have been found and are now available to grow. Fritillaria imperialis ‘Lutea’ is yellow and is the oldest and dates back to 1665. Other forms are ‘Aurora’ which is orange-red, Rubra is the red form, ‘Premier’ is noted to be pale tangerine with purple tinged veins, ‘Argenteo Variegata’ has leaves which are edged in white and somber orange flowers and ’Orange Brilliant’ is said to be a rusty orange. All Fritillaria have an unpleasant scent which people have said ranges from raw meat to wet fur to musty smelling, this helps to repel rodents who commonly decimate bulbs by eating them. I have read several sources who say the scent really does work as rodents do not touch these bulbs.
Fritillaria imperialis have bulbs which are noticeably bowl-shaped and because of this should be planted on their side so water will not sit in and rot them. the bulbs should be planted at least 10cm(4 in) deep and the spacing should be 22cm to 30cm(9 to 12 in). These bulbs do not like being moved except when the clumps become big enough to split up. If you live in a cold climate it might be a good idea to plant them in a container and then lift it for storage over the cold months.
To get the best bloom give Fritillaria imperialis full sun during their growing season. Like many other bulbs they need lots of water when they are growing and very little when they are dormant. They like well-drained, rich soil with plenty of grit to assist drainage during wetter seasons. These impressive plants are quite hardy and rate between zones 5 through 9, -23 c(-10 f).
More about Crown Imperials:
The Wiki page is a good place to start:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritillaria_imperialis
Naming and history of plant: http://books.google.com/books?id=2AknHP_NRBgC&pg=PA74&sig=sdRm87XtnjBYNRRPGrhIvpGgzlI&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false
The story of the stolen bulb and how it can effect us: http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/potd/2007/03/fritillaria_imperialis_rubra_1.php
See you soon in a garden….