How to Grow and Care for Crown Imperial Plants

Crown imperial plant with orange flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The crown imperial, which is native to the Middle East and West Asia, makes a bold decorative statement that has been appreciated by plant-lovers since ancient times. The blooms create a "crown" on a stalk that can grow up to three feet tall above glossy foliage. Pendant bell-shaped flowers come in several varieties in shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Plants are rooted in a simple bulb structure. They flower in mid- to late spring (April through June) and go dormant by summer. Bulbs should be planted in autumn.

As a member of the Fritillaria genus that includes species classified as toxic to humans and animals, F. imperialis should be planted out of the reach of children, dogs, and cats.

Common Names Crown imperial
Botanical Name Fritillaria imperialis
Family Liliaceae
Plant Type Perennial, bulb
Mature Size 1-3 ft. tall, 8-12 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Red, orange, yellow
Hardiness Zones 5-9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans, toxic to pets

Crown Imperial Care

Line a border with these bulbs for a most colorful show. Gardeners often choose to make it the focal point of one bed.

Crown imperial plants are pretty much impervious to any issues but the bulbs have a tricky shape that needs some special attention. The top of each bulb has a notch from where the plant eventually emerges. This notch can easily collect water and cause the bulb to rot, so although it needs to be planted upwards in the soil, it should be done so on a slight angle to avoid the problem.

Once you buy your bulbs in the early autumn, plant them immediately, as they do not like to be out in the air for long and easily dry out and/or rot. Bulbs should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep. If you want, you can incorporate bonemeal and a 10-10-10 fertilizer into the soil to give the bulbs their best chance of success, although this isn't strictly necessary. Bulbs should be planted between 9 and 12 inches apart in groups of between 6 to 12. Cover your bulbs with a thick layer of mulch after they are planted and backfilled with soil.

Crown imperial plant with orange flowers and crown leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Crown imperial plant with orange flowers in garden of tulips and purple hyacinth

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Crown imperial plants with tall stems and orange flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Crown imperial prefers full sun (6 to 8 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) that range from a pH of acid, neutral, or alkaline. Native to locations such as the Himalayas and Turkey, it is most happy grown on cliffs and rocky slopes in well-drained soil.

Water

Water only when plants are actively growing in the spring. Give them about one inch of water per week if it does not rain. 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.

Temperature and Humidity

Crown imperials are tough plants and can survive in a range of humidity levels and temperatures. The bulbs, in fact, are tolerant to temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

You'll want to give your crown imperials an organic fertilizer in the spring, and then a diluted liquid fertilizer in the fall. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions. 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.

Types of Crown Imperial

There are many varieties of this showy plant, with names that are almost as striking as the flowers they produce—including several that honor famous composers.

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. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and is hardy from USA 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 2 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 2 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.

Pruning

In summer, the foliage will go dormant. Trim off spent flowers but leave the foliage on the plant so that it can send energy to the bulb for the next season's growth.

Propagating Crown Imperial


Every three to five years in the late summer or early fall depending on your climate zone (August in the lower end of the zone spectrum), dig up all the mature bulbs, separate, and replant them. This not only produces new plants, it also helps the plants continue to thrive and put on a flower-rich show season after season.

  1. Carefully dig up the bulbs with a shovel and try to avoid injuring the bulbs.
  2. Gently divide the bulbs into sections or individual bulbs.
  3. While you can replant larger bulbs right away at the same depth as the original plant, it is better to pot any smaller bulbs in potting soil and bury them in the ground during the winter to protect the roots from cold injury. You can also plant the bulbs in a cold frame. Let the plants grow for a full year before transplanting them. During that time, they need bright indirect light and should be watered to be kept evenly moist when there is no precipitation.

Growing Crown Imperial From Seeds

Growing crown imperial from seeds that you collected from your own plant requires quite a bit of effort yet it will likely have disappointing results, as germination is erratic, and most crown imperials are cultivars whose seeds do not produce plants that are true to the parent. Cultivar seeds are not widely available. If you would like to propagate the plant, it is best to start with bulbs from the division of an existing mature plant.

Potting and Repotting

Crown imperials don't do well in containers; they should be grown in garden soil or raised beds that provide the necessary depth and allows them to grow undisturbed for a long period of time.

Overwintering

The plants do not need any winter protection, as their foliage has already died back during the summer. If you live in a very mild climate, dig up the bulbs in the early winter and bring them inside. After they are thoroughly dried, store them in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks before replanting them in the ground in early spring. This mimics the natural period of cold temperatures that the bulbs need to spur them into another cycle of growth.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

This plant is truly resistant to most common diseases and pesky invaders. One thing to watch out for is invasion by scarlet lily beetles which will eat holes in the leaves. Unfortunately, the same insecticides that work on these beetles also harm the plant, so a better strategy is to remove the bugs by hand and/or to set up glue traps around the plant.

How to Get Crown Imperial to Bloom

The striking bell-shaped flowers of this plant reach their full size and color display when situated in full sun. The plant can grow in partial shade as well, but this will lead to duller and smaller blooms. If the plant is not flowering in the first year, it could be that the soil needs a bloom-boosting fertilizer that is high in phosphorus and potassium.

FAQ
  • Is crown imperial invasive?

    No, you can plant this showy bulb-based plant without fear of it taking over your garden or interfering with other native plants.

  • What do crown imperials smell like?

    The flowers have a potent, musky scent almost like a skunk, which deters rodents and voles as well as squirrels and deer from the garden. Before purchasing bulbs, smell a fully grown plant to get a sense of whether the perk is worth it!

  • Do you need to stake crown imperial plants?

    In general, you do not need to take this step as the plant's stems tend to be very sturdy—especially when grown in full sun.

  • Do crown imperial plants need to be grouped?

    While grouping your plants in clusters of 6 to 12 bulbs will create a striking focal point in your garden, there is no need to do so for the health of the plants.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Toxic Plants. University of California.

  2. Fritillaria melagris. Oxford Plants 400.