Fragrant Fritillary

Fragrant Fritillary © DSchiel

Fritillaria liliacea

Description (Jepson,

  • Monocotyledon
    • Monocots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Lily Family (Liliaceae)
  • Perennial herb
    • Grows from a bulb (short underground stem with fleshy leaves, e.g. onion)
  • Leaves
    • Basal and alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
    • Linear to ovate (egg-shaped)
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • 1 to several white, nodding, bell-shaped flowers, with green veins
      • 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), in 2 separate whorls, similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a 6-angled, upright capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity) with many seeds
  • Height to 14 in.


  • Native and endemic (limited) to California
    • Grows in hilly grasslands with heavy clay or serpentine soils
    • 50-54% of plants occur on ultramafic soils, e.g. serpentine; see ultramafic affinity rankings (Calflora per Safford and Miller 2020)
    • See Serpentine Grassland for more about Edgewood’s serpentine soil and the unique communities it supports
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • California Rare Plant Rank: 1B.2 (rare, threatened, or endangered in California and elsewhere)
  • Grows at elevations to 700 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Mammals eat the bulbs
      • Deer appear to favor the flowers as blooms often quickly disappear
    • Frequented by bees and beetles
  • Native people
    • Ate the bulbs boiled, steamed, roasted, or baked in earthen ovens (Anderson 2005)
    • See Lily family for more details about how Native people actively managed edible geophytes
  • CAUTION – some Fritillaria species are toxic
Flower (L), Fruit (R)
© DSchiel (L), KKorbholz (R)

Name Derivation

  • Fritillaria (fri-til-AIR-ee-a) – from the Latin fritillus, “a dicebox,” possibly referring to the shape of the seedpod or the patterned flowers
    • For information about ancient dice boxes/cups, including images, see Thayer 2019
  • liliace (lil-ee-AY-see-ee) – “lily-like,” from the Greek lirion, “lily”
  • Fragrant fritillary – some sources indicate flowers are sweet-scented, while others state no or faint scent


  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • Many of California’s Fritillaria species are of limited distribution and are declining in numbers due to habitat loss and horticultural collecting (Himes 1997)

ID Tips

  • Has a distinctive flower, but when not in bloom, its vegetation is similar to many monocots found at Edgewood

At Edgewood

  • Found in serpentine grasslands
    • No iNaturalist observations are documented because locations of rare species are obscured
  • Flowers February – April

See General References

Specific References

Alexander, E.B. 2010, Oct. & 2011, Jan. Serpentine soils and why they limit plant survival and growth. Fremontia 38/39: 28-31.

Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley.

Himes, K. 1997, Mar. Edgewood’s two Fritillaria, harbingers of spring. Edgewood Explorer.

Safford, H.D. 2010, Oct. & 2011, Jan. Serpentine endemism of the California flora. Fremontia 38/39: 32-39.

Safford, H.D. and J.E.D. Miller. 2020. An updated database of serpentine endemism in the California flora. Madroño 67(2): 85-104. BioOne Complete. PDF hosted by San Diego State University, San Diego, California.

Thayer, B. 2019. Fritillus. LacusCurtius: Into the Roman World.