Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Exotic Fritillaries

If you have a passion for the exotic, Fritillaria will give you lots of satisfaction. Pronounced "frit-ill-AR-ee-ah"), they are named for the checkered or "dice-box" pattern displayed on many of the species. There are about 100 species in the genus. Most of them are simply called "fritillaries." All are native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, the Mediterranean region, Asia and North America. Plant height can range from less than 12" to 48", depending upon the species. Flowers are often bell-shaped and pendulous, and can range in color from bright orange or yellow to pink or dark purple. Most bloom mid-spring or early summer. Many of them produce disagreeable fragrances.

A few Fritillaria species are highly regarded in Chinese medicine, but as is often the case, some Fritillaria species are toxic. It's good to remember that herbal medicines can be quite dangerous if used without proper training. Because some fritillaries are toxic, be cautious if planting them where children may nibble them.

Fritillaria are wonderful subjects for perennial and bulb gardens. Sometimes only a few plants such as Fritillaria imperialis can make quite a visual impact. Smaller species are often very effective in large groups and for naturalizing.

Because there are so many species with different characteristics available, it is beyond the scope of this article to describe and give growing instructions for them all. But a few general tips are appropriate. Plant in full sun to partial shade and in well-drained, humusy garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before preparing your planting site, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They will send the sample to a lab for analysis. The analysis will normally be sent to you through the mail. If the test results seem somewhat cryptic and difficult to understand, don't hesitate to call your County Agent for explanation.

Planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Unless you are naturalizing them, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 15" deep, removing all traces of weeds.

A fine all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

You might think that plants bearing flowers as extraordinary in appearance as Fritillaria would be difficult to grow. But they are not. Include some in your garden. You'll love showing them off to the admiration of all.

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