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Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)

Updated on March 14, 2012

The genus Fritillaria, commonly referred to as Missionbells or Fritillaries, contains about 100 species plants that are propagated by bulbs and produce interesting, pendulous, tulip-like flowers. Fritillaria belongs to the true lily family, Liliaceae. Some species of Fritillaria are among my favorite flower bulbs including the plant featured in this article the stunning Fritillaria imperialis, which is known by the common names of Crown Imperial and Kaiser's Crown.

Crown Imperial is native to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan but was one of the first plants to be brought in to cultivation. The wild form has large orange-red flowers and after looking at the photograph of a patch of them growing naturally below, it's easy to see why early growers were drawn to them, they are a striking sculptural landscape plant with large, bright flowers. Breeding efforts has managed to produce cultivars that have flowers that range from crimson red through to yellow, with an orange flowered cultivar being the commonly found in the bulb trade and in home gardens.

Fritillaria imperialis growing native in Kurdistan, a region on the boarders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
Fritillaria imperialis growing native in Kurdistan, a region on the boarders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. | Source

The plant produces large stems to 1m tall which have large glossy, lance-shaped leaves along the lower portion of the stem. The stem then produces a large leafless stalk which is topped by a neat ring of large flowers and above them another tussock of smaller leaves. The likeness of the leaves and flowers at the top of the stem to a crown contributes partially to both common names of the plant, Crown Imperial and Kaiser's Crown.

Crown Imperials flowers in late Spring and oddly enough the flowers have an interesting fox-like scent which is reported to be authentic enough to even repel rodents such as mice and voles away from the garden. Other people have likened the scent of the flowers to a mixture of wet fur and garlic.

A yellow flower cultivar of Crown Imperial.
A yellow flower cultivar of Crown Imperial. | Source

Growing Crown Imperials

Crown Imperials are best grown from bulbs as seeds take a long time to germinate and may not come true to type. When planting the bulbs it is best to lay them on their sides. The structure of the bulb causes the emerging stem to grow from a depressing which can pool with water and cause them to rot when they are planted upright.

Choose a spot that receives full sunlight and has fertile, well-drained soil for best growth and optimal flowering. They will also grow in other soils types as long as they are free draining. The bulbs are quite large and should be planted about 15cm (6 inches) deep in sandy soils and 12cm (5 inches) deep in heavier soils. Leave 20cm (8 inches) spacing between each bulb in all directions, and for best aesthetics plant in odd-numbered clusters of 3 or more. Plant the bulbs on top of a layer of sand to help prevent rot.

Bulbs should be planted in Summer and will flower the following Spring. Water them regularly while they are growing but avoid over-watering them as they are prone to rot. The bulbs are toxic and should not be eaten, be carefully if handling them around children or pets.

After flowering the plant will begin to dry out, the leaves and stems should be left to completely dry before they are cut off at ground level. This allows the underground bulbs to draw as much energy as possible from the shoots so that they can multiply and produce healthy new shoots after winter has passed.

I hope this article has highlighted the wonderful Crown Imperial flower and given you some tips on how to successfully grow them in the home garden.

Do you have Crown Imperials growing in your garden?

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