Crown Imperial Fritillaria


After a winter that we will be talking about for winters to come along the East Coast, everyone is delighted more than ever to see spring arrive. One of the ways that we have come to welcome spring is with the arrival of flowering bulbs. Daffodils are of course the easiest, tulips are indeed the divas of the bulb world, and then there is a plethora of other bulbs to catch people’s attention.

One of my favorite spring flowering bulbs is the yellow crown imperial or Fritillaria imperials ‘Maxima Lutea.’

This bulb rises up in the spring beginning with an eye-catching rosette of light green foliage. As the foliage continues to grow and expand, the flowering stalk begins to emerge. Most garden visitors have never seen such a plant so their curiosity is piqued. At the top of each flowering stalk is a tuft of green leaves that act as a shield over the flower buds. Once the flowering begins, a yellow ring of flowers resembling a circle of crowns hangs down from the top of the plant. Every rose has its thorn or in this case, every crown has its thorn. The thorn for the crown imperial would be the smell. Even when the foliage is emerging, you can begin to get a whiff of something that is a bit off. As the stalk elongates and begins to flower, then you can really notice that something is not right. A fully developed crown imperial smells like a skunk. An entire mass planting of crown imperials smells like Pepe Le Pew is having a family reunion. Ok, maybe it is not really that bad. The smell is tolerable whereas a skunk will make your eyes water. And unlike seeing a skunk, crown imperials are so beautiful that you will not want to turn the other way when you see them.

Fritillaria imperialis Maxima Lutea

As for culture, plant the bulbs 6″ below the soil line in early fall. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 5-8 so be sure to add an extra layer of mulch in the colder parts of zone 5. In areas with wet winters, you may want to plant the bulbs sideways to avoid crown rot. Crown rot occurs when water gets trapped into the top of the bulb. After flowering, the bulbs will go dormant by late summer. Once established, take care not to move the bulbs as they prefer not to be disturbed.

If you are looking to add some dramatic spring bulbs to your landscape, be sure to check out the yellow crown imperials. They can grow 2 to 3 feet in height so they will make a real welcome statement in your garden after a long winter.



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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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  1. Sommer on May 7, 2014 at 11:35 am

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  2. Pukh Payasong on May 9, 2014 at 5:27 am

    Hey Rodney,

    these pictures are amazing! In my hometown the spring leaves also his footprints 🙂 Everywhere we have now nice colorfull plants 🙂

    Really love your articles! Pukh

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