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Fritillaria spp., fritillary


As a member of the lily family, plants in the genus Fritillaria must be expected to be poisonous but little detail is known about them.

Blog Entries

Read more about fritillaries in these blog entries;
Why did my crown imperials die?



Fritillaria spp., fritillary

Looking into the flower of Fritillaria imperialis,
crown imperial

Meaning of the Name

From the Latin, ‘fritillus’, ‘dice-box’ as the flowers of a number of species have markings reminiscent of dice. Gerard, however, disputes this saying it comes from the chess board based on a translation of ‘frittillo’ as ‘tables’, i.e. the tables at which men sat to play dice and chess.
Imperial and, hence, splendid and showy.
Said to be based on the guinea fowl because of the patterning of the flowers. Meleagris is the genus of both wild and domestic turkeys but the guinea fowl is classified as Numida meleagris. Gerard calls the plant ‘Turkie or Ginny-hen flour’.

Common Names and Synonyms

The two best known species of the Fritillaria genus are Fritillaria imperialis, called crown imperial, and Fritillaria meleagris which has a number of common names including snake’s head, fritillary, bloody warrior, leper lily, drooping bell of Sodom

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Though not fully investigated, it is believed the plants have effects similar to the genus Veratrum.

Grigson, in his ‘Englishman’s Flora’, calls the F. meleagris ‘snaky, deadly beauties’ but there is little evidence of harm.

Some sources suggest it is a cardiac poison but it does not appear on the HTA list of potentially harmful plants.

Fritillaria spp., fritillary

F. meleagris, snake's head fritillary


There are no reported incidents.

Folklore and Facts

The Fritillaria are yet more plants which were growing near Christ's crucifixion leading them to hang their heads in sorrow which they still do today.

F. meleagris is associated with deceit and Vita Sackville-West declared it to be "a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay." Leper lily refers to the similarity between the shape of the flower and the bells carried by lepers. This may explain its sinister reputation.

F. imperialis is thought to originate from the Himalayas and, if found in the wild, there are usually traces of a demolished property meaning it was being grown in a garden.


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Introduction to the A to Z section
Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree