Fritillaria meleagris L. is one of the best known species of Fritillaria in cultivation, noted for its checkering and many common names such as "Snake's head fritillary". It is from Europe having become naturalised in Great Britain, and is found in wet meadows. There is a less common all white variety (often called Fritillaria meleagris unicolor alba) and there can be two or three flowers per stem. Photos by Arnold Trachtenberg and Mary Sue Ittner. Other photos on this page, unless otherwise credited, by David Pilling.
Photographs by Laurence Hill taken in Iffley Meadows, a floodplain of the Thames just south of Oxford city center, UK.
Some people think that two or three flowers per stem is a genetic trait, however since bulbs can have a single flower for many years and then start to produce more, it may be as with similar species like Lilium that bigger bulbs produce more flowers.
The next series of photographs show the detail of the pattern which could be described as a tessellation. Rather than a perfect checkerboard, this consists of lines of round blobs. The blobs in one line being positioned next to the spaces in the adjacent line. When the pattern is not regular, it is possible to see that the blobs seem to repel one another. This sort of pattern is common in the natural world. The mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing published a paper "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis" in 1952 which showed such patterns could be generated from a set of reaction-diffusion equations. The idea is that there are two chemicals, morphogens, an activator and an inhibitor. Production of the activator also generates the inhibitor which decreases the production of the activator, the relative speeds of diffusion control the pattern formed.
The pattern might be modelled as spots of white (pigment-less areas) on the background colour of the flower. Petals are made up of around six strips, and the spots are confined to these strips, whilst still being able to affect the position of spots in neighbouring strips. The spotting is even visible on flowers that are mostly white. The first two photos show that the pattern on the inside of the flower is the same as on the outside. Each photo shows the same petal from the inside and outside with one view mirrored, in the second arrows show a corresponding spot. The next photo shows the strips. The final two photos show that there is a range of variation between the all white flowers and the all purple ones.
One common name "the guinea hen flower" explains the botanical; meleagris is the Greek for guinea fowl (numida meleagris), a noisy bird domesticated by the ancient Greeks, and a number of highly patterned species of birds and fish have meleagris applied to them c.f. Tigridia meleagris. Meleager was a hero in Greek mythology. Following his death his sisters cried unendingly and the god Artemis changed them into guinea hens. The markings of these birds are supposed to be their tears; photo 6 shows a feather.
Typical of spring flowering bulbs, growth begins in Autumn, shoots appear above ground in early Spring and by the start of Summer the bulbs are dormant, foliage dying back as soon as seed pods have ripened. The first photo shows shoots, which are dark green contrasting with the blue-green of mature foliage. The next photos show a plant after flowering with seed pod and a close up of a seed pod. The final photo is of a ripe seed pod that has opened; springy stems ensure a gentle breeze will distribute the light weight seed. The six strips of seed in each pod can be seen.
The first photo below shows the Lilium like seed on a 10 mm grid; the next photograph is of flowering size bulbs with shoots evident in September. The third picture captures the bottom of a bulb with an offset forming and the fourth the top of a bulb. Note the solid base and the hole in the top. The next to last image is of bulbs the correct way up. The final photo shows one year old seedling bulbs at the start of their second year of growth (seed sown in June 2010, photo February 2012). The largest are about 3 mm in diameter. Seed germinates at the end of Winter and may flower in its third season. It is short term viable and should be sown or stored in a fridge (40 °F). See Fritillaria Germination for more detail.
Fritillaria meleagris 'Aphrodite' is a form with white and green veined and lightly chequered flowers. Photo by Michael J. Campbell. There are a number of other named vegetatively propagated cultivars.
Asian fritillaria a-c - Asian fritillaria d-k - Asian fritillaria l-r - Asian fritillaria s-z - European fritillaria a-o - European fritillaria p-z - Fritillaria index - Miscellaneous fritillaria - North American fritillaria a-l - North American fritillaria m-z