Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae
Genus: Fritillaria
Species: F. imperialis

CROWN IMPERIAL LILY - Fritillaria imperialis

While the Crown Imperial Lily - Fritillaria imperialis may not have the impressive stature of the some of the larger Himalayan lilies, it more than makes up for it with spades of ornamental value. As indicated by its common name it is considered by many to be a king amongst lily species. In fact the species name 'imperialis' is a reference to the large circle of golden flowers which are reminiscent of an emperor's crown.


Introduced to Europe in the 16th century by Carolus Clusius, a Flemish doctor and pioneering botanist, numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use ranging in colour from a true scarlet through oranges and finally to yellow. The yellow-flowered Fritillaria imperialis 'Maximea Lutea' gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

The Crown Imperial Lily grows up to approximately 1 metre in height once mature, and bears narrowly lanceolate-shaped, glossy green leaves which are produced at intervals along the stem. It is noted for its prominent whorl of downward facing tulip-like blooms. Each flower is approximately 5 cm long, opening from late March or early April. Unusually they first emerge facing upwards at the top of the stem, only to become downward facing as the flowerbuds increase in size. The flower stems are topped by a 'crown' of small leaves, hence the common name of Crown Imperial Lily.

As beautiful as they are, the fragrance can at best be described as mildly pungent although some report that it is akin to fox poop! As such it is said to repel mice, moles and other rodents.

Care must be taken when handling Fritillaria imperialis corms as they are composed of comparatively loose fleshy scales which are intolerant of bruising or prolonged exposure to air. Plant them on their sides so that their hollow crowns do not retain water during periods of heavy and prolonged rain. To promote better drainage around the corm, plant it within a pocket of coarse sand. 

The Crown Imperial Lily will perform best in fertile, well-drained soils in either full sun or partial shade. Plant them a good 8 inches deep and leave them undisturbed for at least 4 years. The stems should be cut down to ground level once they have died off over the summer.

For related articles click onto the following links:

MADONNA LILY - Lilium candidum   THE GIANT HIMALAYAN LILY   TURK'S CAP LILY - Lilium martagon

About the Author

The 'Seeds of Eaden' website is the brainchild of professional horticulturist and multi-award winning gardener Simon Eade. After six years of study; two years 'Retail Horticulture' at Hadlow College, then four years Commercial Horticulture at Greenwich University, Simon has worked in a number of 'fields' within the industry for over twenty years. Most notably, managing the prestigious Alexandra Palace garden centre in London. Since then he has become an internationally published writer, and author of the popular 'Garden of Eaden' blog.

Simon Eade is also a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society's Banksian medal

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