A Frillitaria with a Checkered Past

Credit: Carolyn Jones

It brings with it fascinating history: Fritillaria comes from the Latin fritillus, the name for a dice box used by ancient Romans. The small, square indentations on the box caused the dice to rattle when shaken.

One of this March-blooming bulb’s common names, leper-lily, reminds us of Medieval times, when lepers wore bells to warn others of their approach. Blooming in March and standing about 30 cm (1 ft.) tall, F. meleagris thrives in full sun or part shade in humus-rich soil that is well-drained or a bit damp. Show it off in a container, with a low-growing, evergreen perennial such as the evergreen form of redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana, zone 7).