Yellow Fritillary Plant Profile

Yellow nodding bell-shaped flower on green stem.
The yellow fritillary is one of the first spring flowers to bloom.

Terry Gray / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Yellow fritillary, also known as yellow bells, golden bells, and yellow mission bells, are part of the lily family. This plant is native to the western United States and Canada, particularly in states known as "sagebrush country" (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, North Dakota, Nevada, et al).

These dainty wildflowers were noted by the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806, for their tendency to carpet an entire area in bright yellow flowers. The appearance of the hanging, bell-like flowers is a lovely sign that spring has finally arrived.

The flower's bulb is edible and was commonly used as a food source by several Native American tribes. The bulb was typically cooked or dried and ground into a coarse meal and stored for winter. The bulbs are also eaten by bears and rodents, while deer and other grazing wildlife eat the leaves and seed pods.

The name "fritillaria" comes from the Latin and means "dice box", which refers to the faint checkerboard pattern visible on the petals of flowers in these species.

The Fritillaria pudica is a distant cousin of the much larger crown imperial. These pendulous bell-shaped flowers begin their bloom period a bright yellow, then shift to a dull reddish-orange or sometimes purple.

Once the flowers drop off the rest of the plant, consisting of a single stem and several slender leaves, fade and disappear until the following spring. They're one of the first flowers to bloom in spring and then to go dormant as summer sets in.

Yellow fritillary are generally just flowers to be enjoyed in their native habitat as they are not sold commercially in North America.

Scientific Name Fritillaria pudica
Common Name Yellow fritillary, yellowbells
Plant Type  Perennial
Mature Size   6-8 inches
Sun Exposure   Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type   Light, sandy, loamy
Soil pH   Acidic to neutral; soil tolerant
Bloom Time   Early spring
Flower Color   Yellow, reddish orange
Hardiness Zones   USDA 3 to 7
Native Areas   Canada, western US
Toxicity   Non toxic
Bell-shaped yellow flower tinged with reddish orange
The bright yellow blooms of the yellow fritillary begin to fade to reddish orange Anne Elliott / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Growing Conditions for Yellow Fritillary

It's not currently possible to obtain yellow fritillary bulbs easily commercially in the United States. Being a native plant, the yellow fritillary is happy to thrive in its areas of naturalization. If you are particularly keen to try introducing this flower to your garden, you could enquire with a reputable specialist wildflower nursery.

This flower prefers dry, sandy, rocky soil, and partial sun or dappled shade. It does well with the moisture conditions in its normal habitat region, much of which tends to have dry rocky soil but a decent amount of rainfall.

Problems with Transpanting Yellow Fritillary

As many gardeners have found, trying to transplant native perennials or annuals is not only disturbing to their habitat, but it may not yield the desired results in terms of successful transplanting. Therefore, yellow fritillary plants are best enjoyed in their native habitats.

Transplanting these flowers is usually unsuccessful as they do not thrive outside their native range. Establishing them elsewhere would require relocating a colony of bulbs. They also often skip a year of flowering, so would take at least two years to naturalize properly, assuming other growing conditions were met.

In the more complicated microclimate of a home garden, the yellow fritillary would be vulnerable to a wide range of pests, including gophers, squirrels, slugs and snails, none of which bother them in their beloved sagebrush locations. Being near other non-native garden plants may also cause problems, mainly because of the possibility of fungus, mildew or other diseases not previously present in the fritillary's habitat.

While there are many good reasons to want to plant native plants in a home garden (including attracting native pollinators and wildlife), in some cases it's difficult for these sometimes-delicate plants to make that transition. Generally, they're better left where they are.

Appreciating Yellow Fritillary in the Wild

Because it's not advisable or practical to grow this native bulb in a home garden, one of the best ways to appreciate its gentle beauty is to visit its native areas in early spring when it's blooming.

It can be seen in national parks and conservation lands throughout northern California, Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Washington, northwestern Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, and in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.