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Snake's Head Fritillary

Fritillaria meleagris

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Liliaceae (Lily)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
40 centimetres tall
Ditches, gardens, grassland, meadows, parks, waterside, wetland.

Purple, 6 petals
The Snake's Head Fritillary, scientifically known as Fritillaria meleagris, boasts exquisite bell-shaped flowers that are a true emblem of British springtime. With their distinctive checkerboard or snakeskin-like pattern adorning the petals, these elegant blooms unfurl in a palette of subtle purples, pinks, whites, and pale greens, hanging gracefully from non-woody stems. Their nectar-rich, pendulous blossoms attract both bees and butterflies, contributing to the vibrant tapestry of wildflower meadows, damp grasslands, and riverbanks across the United Kingdom. These perennial, bulbous plants are not only a symbol of renewal but also a testament to the UK's rich botanical heritage and its dedication to preserving the habitats where these enchanting flowers thrive.
The fruit of the Snake's Head Fritillary consists of a capsule or bulbous seed pod that develops after the flower has been pollinated and the petals have withered away. These seed pods are typically three-lobed and green in color. As the plant matures, the seed pods begin to swell, eventually turning brown and drying out. Inside the capsules, small, shiny, and often black or dark brown seeds are produced. When the seed pods ripen and split open, they release these seeds, allowing them to fall to the ground. The seeds are relatively small and somewhat flattened, adapting to wind and water dispersal mechanisms to aid in the plant's reproduction. This natural process ensures the propagation and spread of Snake's Head Fritillary in its native habitat. The seeds mature in June and July.
The leaves of the Snake's Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) are distinctive and play a crucial role in the plant's overall appearance. These leaves are lance-shaped or elliptical and can grow up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length. They are typically arranged alternately along the stem of the plant. The most notable feature of Snake's Head Fritillary leaves is their lush, deep green color, which provides a beautiful contrast to the often delicate and colorful flowers. The leaves have prominent parallel veins running lengthwise and a smooth, slightly glossy texture. They are entire, meaning they have smooth edges without serrations or teeth. The leaves emerge in early spring along with the flowers and continue to grow as the plant matures. They are basal, meaning they form a rosette at the base of the plant and are often found clustered together. This rosette of leaves provides a visually appealing backdrop for the unique and eye-catching flowers. As the growing season progresses, the leaves remain green and healthy, contributing to the overall vitality of the plant. They play a vital role in photosynthesis, helping the plant produce energy and nutrients for growth and reproduction. The combination of these vibrant, green leaves and the striking flowers makes Snake's Head Fritillary a captivating and easily recognizable plant in its native habitats.
Snake's Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is not generally known for having a strong or distinctive aroma. Unlike some flowers that are prized for their fragrance, the Snake's Head Fritillary is primarily appreciated for its unique and visually striking appearance rather than its scent. The flowers of Snake's Head Fritillary are typically small and bell-shaped, and they do not produce a noticeable or fragrant perfume. Their beauty lies in their intricate checkerboard or snakeskin-like patterns on the petals and their range of delicate colors, which can include purples, pinks, whites, and pale greens. While the absence of a strong aroma may limit its appeal to those seeking fragrant blooms, the Snake's Head Fritillary is still highly valued for its aesthetic qualities and its role in natural ecosystems as a source of nectar for pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Other Names:
Chequered Daffodil, Chequered Lily, Chess Flower, Drooping Tulip, Fritillary, Frog-cup, Guinea Flower, Guinea-hen Flower, Lazarus Bell, Leper Lily, Snake Heads, Snakeshead Lily.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Fritillaria meleagris is a species of flowering plant in the lily family, Liliaceae. It is native to Europe and western Asia, and is commonly known as the snake's head fritillary, or chess flower. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that typically grows to between 15 and 40 cm in height, and has bell-shaped flowers that are typically purple or white in color, with a distinctive checkered pattern. The plant's leaves are linear and grass-like, and it typically flowers in the spring. The Fritillaria meleagris is considered as endangered species in many countries, due to destruction of its wetland habitat.


Snake's Head Fritillary, also known as Fritillaria meleagris, is a fascinating and striking plant that belongs to the lily family. This beautiful flower is native to Europe, where it grows in damp meadows, marshes, and riverbanks. It is one of the most recognizable wildflowers in the world, with its unmistakable bell-shaped flowers that are adorned with a distinct and intricate pattern of purple, white, and sometimes pink or red checkerboard-like markings.

The Snake's Head Fritillary gets its name from the intricate snake-like pattern on its petals. The Latin name, Fritillaria meleagris, means "spotted like a guinea fowl," which refers to the intricate pattern of the petals. The plant typically grows to be around 20-40 cm tall, and its leaves are narrow and grass-like, growing in a rosette pattern at the base of the stem.

The Snake's Head Fritillary blooms in late April and May, and its flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects. The flowers are produced on slender stems that rise above the foliage, and each stem usually carries one to three flowers. The flowers have six petals that are fused at the base to form a bell-shaped structure. They are typically around 2-3 cm long and can be either pink, purple, or white, with a distinctive pattern of dark spots arranged in a checkerboard-like pattern.

In the wild, Snake's Head Fritillaries are becoming increasingly rare due to habitat loss and over-harvesting. Fortunately, they are easy to grow in gardens and make a fantastic addition to any spring garden. They prefer damp soil and partial shade, and they can be planted in the fall for spring bloom.

In addition to their ornamental value, Snake's Head Fritillaries have a long history of medicinal use. They contain several alkaloids, including imperialine, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. The bulbs have also been used as a treatment for respiratory ailments, and in traditional medicine, they were often used as a diuretic and a laxative.

The Snake's Head Fritillary has also played a significant role in art and literature. It has been depicted in paintings and illustrations by many famous artists, including Vincent Van Gogh and William Morris. The poet William Wordsworth was also a fan of this flower and wrote about it in his poem "The Solitary Reaper":

"Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

The Snake's Head Fritillary has also been used as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. During World War II, it was the inspiration behind a campaign to plant the flower in the demilitarized zone between the Allied and Axis forces in the Netherlands. The campaign was successful, and the flower is now a symbol of hope and friendship between nations.

In addition to its cultural significance, the Snake's Head Fritillary is an important plant for pollinators. Its flowers are a valuable source of nectar for bees and butterflies, and its leaves provide food for caterpillars of several species of moth.

Despite its beauty and cultural significance, the Snake's Head Fritillary is still threatened in the wild. The loss of its natural habitat due to agricultural intensification and urbanization, as well as over-collection from the wild, has led to a decline in its populations. Efforts are underway to protect and conserve this species, including habitat restoration and reintroduction programs.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Snake's Head Fritillary is its reproduction. Unlike many other plants, it reproduces both sexually and asexually. The plant produces both seeds and small, bulb-like structures called bulbils, which can grow into new plants. This ability to reproduce asexually helps the plant to spread quickly and effectively, and it is one of the reasons why it has been able to thrive in some areas.

The Snake's Head Fritillary is also a popular plant for breeding and hybridization. Gardeners have produced many cultivars with different colors and patterns, including white, pink, and red varieties. However, the wild-type, with its characteristic purple and white checkered pattern, remains the most beloved and sought after.

In some parts of Europe, the Snake's Head Fritillary has been used as a food source. The bulbs can be cooked and eaten, and they have a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. However, eating the bulbs is not recommended, as they contain toxic alkaloids that can cause nausea and vomiting.

In recent years, the Snake's Head Fritillary has become a popular plant for eco-tourism. In the UK, there are several locations where the flowers grow in large numbers, including the Upper Thames Valley and the North Wessex Downs. These areas have become popular destinations for tourists who want to see the flowers in their natural habitat.

The Snake's Head Fritillary is also known for its medicinal properties. The bulb of the plant has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a range of conditions, including respiratory infections, coughs, and digestive issues. The plant contains a number of compounds, including alkaloids and flavonoids, that are believed to have therapeutic effects.

Studies have shown that the Snake's Head Fritillary may have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-cancer properties. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in vitro, and to reduce inflammation in animal models of arthritis.

Despite its potential as a medicinal plant, the Snake's Head Fritillary is not widely used in modern medicine. This is partly due to the fact that it is a rare and threatened species, and partly because there is still relatively little research into its medicinal properties.

In addition to its medicinal uses, the Snake's Head Fritillary has been used in traditional folklore and superstition. In some cultures, the plant was believed to have magical properties, and it was used in spells and rituals to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.

Overall, the Snake's Head Fritillary is a fascinating and multifaceted plant with a rich history and diverse range of uses. From its cultural significance and ecological importance to its potential as a medicinal plant and source of inspiration for artists and writers, this unique and beautiful flower continues to captivate and inspire people around the world.

20 Facts About the Snake's Head Fritillary

Here are 20 interesting facts about Snake's Head Fritillary:

  1. Scientific Name: The Snake's Head Fritillary is scientifically known as Fritillaria meleagris.

  2. Native to Europe: This flower is native to Europe and can be found in various regions, including the United Kingdom.

  3. Distinctive Checkerboard Pattern: One of its most striking features is its unique checkerboard or snakeskin-like pattern on its petals, which gives it its name.

  4. Spring Bloomer: Snake's Head Fritillaries typically bloom in the spring, usually from March to May.

  5. Habitat: They are commonly found in damp meadows, grasslands, and along riverbanks.

  6. Protected Species: In some regions, Snake's Head Fritillaries are considered a protected species due to habitat loss.

  7. Bell-Shaped Flowers: The flowers are bell-shaped and usually hang downward, making them appear even more distinctive.

  8. Colors: The common color of Snake's Head Fritillaries is purple, but they can also be pink, white, or even pale green.

  9. Perennial Plant: They are perennial plants, which means they come back year after year.

  10. Bulbous Plant: These flowers grow from bulbs, which store energy for the plant's growth.

  11. Bee-Friendly: Snake's Head Fritillaries are pollinated by bees, making them an important part of local ecosystems.

  12. Medicinal Uses: Some species of Fritillaria have been used in traditional medicine for various purposes.

  13. Cultural Symbolism: In some cultures, this flower is associated with rebirth and renewal due to its springtime blooming.

  14. Herbaceous Plant: Snake's Head Fritillaries are herbaceous, meaning they have non-woody stems.

  15. Slow Spread: They can be slow to spread and may take several years to form sizable colonies.

  16. Attracts Butterflies: In addition to bees, they also attract butterflies to their nectar-rich flowers.

  17. Ornamental Use: These flowers are often cultivated for their ornamental value in gardens.

  18. Limited Range: Snake's Head Fritillaries have a limited natural range and are not found in many parts of the world.

  19. Long-Lasting Blooms: The blooms can last for several weeks, adding a splash of color to their habitats.

  20. Endangered Status: In some areas, Snake's Head Fritillaries are considered endangered due to habitat destruction and overcollection.

These facts highlight the beauty and ecological importance of Snake's Head Fritillaries, as well as their significance in various cultures.


Snake's Head Fritillary filmed at Levens Hall in Cumbria on the 3rd April 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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