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 (attached above 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 serpentine (ultramafic) soil; see Serpentine affinity rankings (Calflora per Safford and Miller 2020)
        • 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 (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • 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, and rhizomes, are 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
                • 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, vol. 38:4/39:1, pp. 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, vol. 38:4/39:1, pp. 32-39.

                          Safford, H.D. and Miller, J.E.D. 2020. An Updated Database of Serpentine Endemism in the California Flora. [Manuscript accepted by] Madrono, California Botanical Society, Northridge, California.

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