Frits which don't bloom; was RE: What you've got blooming. hymenocallis

Jim McKenney
Wed, 12 Apr 2006 12:18:38 PDT
Really, I should stop making these posts: whenever someone who gardens in a
more favorable climate posts about what they have in bloom, it just makes me
grumpy about my garden. But I hope everyone is taking it simply as a presage
of what's coming for them. 

It's always disappointing to get bulbs which don't bloom; it's also very
unusual for the most part. But I've experienced the same thing with the big
frits: there are dealers who sell stock which is not vigorous enough to

Curiously, price in no guide in this matter. I have yet to figure out how to
grow Fritillaria imperialis here: almost without exception, newly purchased
bulbs perform spectacularly the first year and then, again almost without
exception, rot the first summer. But it's such a cool plant that every
several years I buy in a few more. My supplier of choice for many years has
been Scheepers: the bulbs I have had from them are clean and generally
bloom, and the price is roughly half of what others ask. 

This year I'm growing them in big pots; they're blooming now. I'll start to
dry them off in about two weeks or so. 

Fritillaria persica seems a bit more tolerant. But when I read that Jim
Waddick has F. persica coming back and blooming sometimes, I really perked
up: I've never been able to establish it here as a garden plant. 

It's not hard from seed, although a lot can and does happen in a small,
crowded garden in the years which pass from seed sowing to flowering. I have
yet to keep the seedling bulbs beyond the walnut size in the ground.  

I first had Fritillaria persica 'Adiyaman' from J.A.Mars of Haselmere back
in the 1980s. I knew this plant back then only from its illustration in
Parkinson's Paradisus and the account in Patrick Synge's Collins Guide to
Bulbs. And when it bloomed, I thought I was the coolest guy on the block! 

Over the years I've noticed that commercial bulbs of Fritillaria imperialis
have gotten smaller. The commercial standard now seems to be a 20 cm bulb,
with some dealers offering 24 cm bulbs. Back in the good old days, my then
favorite source sent out much bigger bulbs, bulbs the size of a small
grapefruit. These bulbs came individually boxed. 

Recently I was Googling Fritillaria imperialis, and discovered something
which may answer a long-standing question. There is a dealer who offers
Fritillaria imperialis 'Rubra' , F. imperialis 'Rubra Maxima', F. imperialis
'Lutea' and F. imperialis 'Lutea Maxima'. The dealer uses the same image for
the two rubra sorts and the same image for the two lutea sorts. The only
difference I could see was the bulb size: the sorts listed as maxima had
bigger bulbs. Now that raises a question: do those names refer to distinct
cultivars, or are they simply grower/distributor codes to indicate bulb

I suspect that these plants need high pH (or at any rate, higher than we
experience here) and cooler soil temperatures while the ground is moist.
Success north and west of here seem more common. 

However, I did have one plant of Fritillaria imperialis 'Aurora' settle down
and thrive in the garden for a long time - maybe seventeen or more years. As
I recall, it grew but did not bloom for about a decade. Then, when it began
to bloom, it bloomed yearly. It was huge: four feet high with big individual
flowers. And then one year it was no longer there. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the great stink lily
generally deigns not to thrive. 


More information about the pbs mailing list