The Arboretum Grounds are closed to the public today (Monday, August 9) due to tree removal.

Empress of the Garden

What smells like a skunk and looks like a pineapple?

And, no, it's not a pineapple that was sprayed by a skunk.

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Fritillaria imperialis 'Lutea', or Crown Imperial Fritillary (or just Crown Imperial), is the queen of our Welcome Walk this April.  A member of the Lily family, this stately architectural plant is one of the tallest early spring flowers, and just darn cool.  Coming in shades of yellows ('Lutea'), oranges ('Rubra Maxima') and reds, the Crown Imperials are car stoppers.

Fritillaria meleagris  Chess Flower


You may be more familiar with F. meleagris, aka Snakes Head Fritillary or Chess Flower, with its nodding head of purple flowers and scale-like pattern.  Fritillus is the Latin word for checkerboard and inspired the genus name for this flower, as well as the common name of several butterflies with similar patterns in their wings.

Speyeria cybele  Great Spangled Fritillary

They are a funky-looking bulb that are planted in the fall along with your Narcissus, Iphieon, Allium and other deer-proof spring-flowering bulbs (the bulbs also stink like skunk, not just the spring flowers, so be considerate about their temporary storage).  --True story: I was storing them in the basement of Wisner House prior to planting, and a coworker came down one day.

*sniff  sniff*

"Is that Fritillaria?!" she exclaimed.  You know from that she must be a gardener.  Another visitor to the basement thought I was storing something else entirely different!

If you should make the excellent decision to bring these flowers into your garden, they should be planted on their side to prevent the depression, from which the stem emerges, from filling with water and leading to rot.  Negative geotropism, a plants natural instinct to grow its upper bits against gravity, will have it growing in the upwards direction.  Positive geotropism is why roots grow down.  (No, I have not experimented with planting a bulb upside down!).


One of the highlights of spring-flowering bulbs is that by the time they bloom it's been so long since you've planted them they are an unexpected surprise as well as giving you a thrill of anticipation.


Since it is a spring ephemeral, allow the foliage to turn yellow before cutting it down.  Luckily, with these, I don't have to tell you not to braid the leaves (Seriously, who still does this?  Stop doing it!).  Do deadhead it to allow that energy for seed production to be diverted back in to the bulb for bigger flowers next spring!

Because F. imperialis is such a stinker, critters such as deer, groundhogs, and chipmunks don't like it and will leave it alone (Pro-tip: strongly scented plants, fetid fragrance or pleasing, are repellent to the animals who like to munch in your garden. Our Director of Horticulture, Marc Montefusco, thinks the scent of the Fritillaria is what saved the surrounding tulips from being feasted upon).  But don't let the Crown Imperials eau de Pepé le Pew turn you off.  It's fairly mild, and if you plant it away from path edges, doorways, and windows, you can enjoy its stately beauty and bold color at a distance.

It is a finicky perennial and will have a better chance of returning bigger and better if planted in an area with no irrigation.  As with many bulbs that go dormant in the summer, they prefer to be dry during this period to keep from rotting.  I'm going to experiment with lifting them and replanting in the fall.  The big question, however, will be where do I store them?!

Not in Wisner House, that's for certain!

And not in your yard either, get your own >:/