How to Grow Crown Imperial Plants

Tall Yellow Crown Imperial (Fritillaria Imperialis) blooms in mid-spring.

Lijuan Guo Photography / Getty Images

The Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) is a dazzling and unique member of the Lily (Liliaceae) family. Native to the Middle East and West Asia, it makes a bold decorative statement that has been appreciated by plant-lovers since ancient times. Its historical roots stem from Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Iraq where it was once called Persian Lily (Lilium Persicum). The Latin word ‘imperialis’ translates to "of the emperor."

Witness its blooms create a "crown" on a stalk that can grow up to three feet tall towards glossy foliage. Pendant shaped flowers come in several varieties in shades of red, orange, and yellow. Plants are rooted in a simple bulb structure, flowering in mid to late spring (April through June) and dormant by summer. Line a border with these bulbs for a most colorful show; gardeners who grow to love the Crown Imperial often choose to make it the focal point of one bed. Learn to grow and care for this low-maintenance spring bulb and watch its royally lush, exotic stature adorn the garden.

Botanical Name Fritillaria imperialis
Common Names Crown Imperial
Plant Type Perennial bulb
Mature Size One to three feet tall, eight to 12 inches wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Well-drained sandy or perlite soil
Soil pH Acid, neutral and basic (alkaline)
Bloom Time Mid-spring
Flower Color Red, orange, yellow
Hardiness Zones 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Native Area Asia and Middle East
Tall Yellow Crown Imperial (fritillaria imperialis) blooms in mid-spring garden.
Lijuan Guo Photography / Getty Images

How to Grow Crown Imperial Plants

The Crown Imperial grows in an upright form, one to three feet tall and between eight to 12 inches wide. In addition to adding visual interest, these flowers are deer resistant and have a potent, musky scent almost like a skunk, which deters rodents and voles from the garden. Before purchasing bulbs, smell a fully grown plant to get a sense of whether the perk is worth it!

Light

Crown Imperial prefers full sun (six to eight hours of sun per day) and will also grow in semi-shade, woodland conditions.

Soil

Overall, the Crown Imperial is flexible in its ability to grow in a variety of soils from medium (loamy) to heavy (clay) soils that range from a pH of acid, neutral, or basic (alkaline). Native to locations such as the Himalayas and Turkey, it is most happy grown on cliffs and rocky slopes in well-drained soil. Plant bulbs six to eight inches deep. Replace the top eight inches of soil with about 2 inches of compost. Add a layer of sand on top to encourage drainage.

Water

Water only when plants are actively growing in spring. Give them about one inch of water per week. Take care to keep only the top six inches of soil moderately moist as the Crown Imperial does not need an excessive amount of water and can tolerate drought.

Toxicity

According to Plants for a Future, the Crown Imperial bulb is poisonous if eaten raw because it contains low amounts of the toxin alkaloid.

Pruning, Division, and Fertilizer

In summer, the foliage will go dormant. Cut the foliage to the ground and compost it if possible. Do not water plants through summer, fall, and winter.

In autumn, add one inch of compost on top of the bed and two inches of mulch to insulate the bulbs and keep weeds down.

Every three to five years in autumn, dig up all the bulbs, separate, and replant.

Common Pests and Diseases to Consider

Start bulbs on their sides in dry or well-drained soil to prevent rot. Throughout the years, be sure to keep nine to 12 inches space between each plant. This space will give bulbs the opportunity to breathe, minimizing fungus, rust, and leaf spots that would otherwise occur due to poor air circulation.

Varieties of Imperial Crown

  • Fritillaria Imperialis ‘Maxima Lutea’ is perhaps the most popular variety. Its flowers are yellow, creating a crown distinctively dramatic in form.
  • Fritillaria Imperialis ‘Aurora’ has orange-red flowers (as does the Prolifer). The Aurora grows two to three feet tall and is hardy from USDA Zones 5a to 8b.
  • Fritillaria Imperialis ‘The Premier’ has flowers of a softer orange akin to the shade of a tangerine, with light purple veins. It grows between 24 and 36 inches tall.
  • Fritillaria imperialis 'Aureomarginata' displays an even softer shade of orange blooms and dual colored green-golden foliage similar to a Spider Plant. It grows up to 36 inches tall.
  • Fritillaria Imperialis ‘Rubra Maxima’ offers a distinct orange-red that looks caramelized and nearly burnt. Flowers are shaped like human eyes, covered with long pistils and stamen. This plant grows between 40 to 44 inches.
  • Fritillaria Imperialis ‘Brahms’ has salmon-pink flowers, and unlike other varieties, it does not have the scent to deter rodents and voles.
  • Fritillaria Imperialis ‘Beethoven’ is a dwarf variety growing about two feet tall. It has creamy orange flowers that grow atop a purple base and is especially sensitive to water-retentive soil.
  • Fritillaria Imperialis ‘Bach’ is another dwarf variety growing only an average of two feet tall. Flowers are red with nuanced shades of orange. In addition to the usual ability to deter deer and rodents, the Bach attracts bees like many other bee-friendly flowers you can welcome into the garden.