Yellow fritillary (Fritillaria pudica) is a small perennial plant native to the sagebrush country and high plains of Western North America. Also known as yellow bells, this small wildflower sprouts from small bulbous roots and flowers immediately after winter snows melt. A member of the lily family, this plant produces fleshy strappy leaves and yellow, bell-shaped drooping flowers that fade to brownish red after just a few days. Growing only 4 to 12 inches tall, yellow fritillary is not an especially showy plant, but native plant enthusiasts may want to try growing it as a novelty. The plant is a spring ephemeral that begins to die back immediately after blossoming.
Yellow fritillary bulbs are generally planted in the fall for bloom the following spring. Good-sized bulbs will bloom in their first season, but smaller offsets may take several years before they achieve the size needed to support flowering.
|Common Name||Yellow fritillary, yellow bells|
|Botanical Name||Fritillaria pudica|
|Plant Type||Perennial bulb|
|Mature Size||4–12 in. tall, 3–8 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, sandy to rocky|
|Soil pH||Mildly acidic to mildly alkaline (6.0 to 8.0)|
|Bloom Time||Early spring|
|Flower Color||Yellow, reddish-orange|
|Hardiness Zones||3–7 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||Western North America|
Yellow Fritillary Care
Yellow fritillary is not an easy plant to find at local nurseries, especially if you live outside the regions where it grows as a native plant. You may have some luck contacting online native-plant nurseries, which sometimes sell both bulbs and container-grown plants for shipping.
The best chance for success is to give the plant an environment that is very close to its native habitat: a low- to mid-elevation location with sandy-to-rocky soil. This plant wants rainfall (or snowmelt) in the spring but prefers dryer conditions for the rest of the year. It will do best in partial sun or dappled shade.
Should you find that the plant doesn't like your garden, it's best to acknowledge that it's not a good choice for you. Instead, try to enjoy the plant in its natural habitat as a visitor to the sagebrush regions during the spring. High plains, grasslands, and meadows edged with Ponderosa pine are the best places to find yellow fritillary.
This plant prefers a partial sun or dappled shade location. But it will tolerate full sun in colder regions.
Yellow fritillary prefers a dryish rocky or sandy soil, similar to what is found in its native sagebrush country. It's natural preference is for mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soils (6.0 to 8.0 pH).
In its native habitat, yellow fritillary grows most readily in areas with regular spring rainfall during a "wet season" but dry conditions for much of the year. This native wildflower is fairly tolerant of occasional drought.
Temperature and Humidity
Hardy in zones 3 to 7, yellow fritillary prefers climates with winters that are cold and snowy and summers that are dry. In the more southern part of its range, it will naturally be found at higher elevations where winter temperatures are suitably cold. It prefers relatively low humidity levels, such as is found in high plains regions.
This native plant requires no feeding, and reacts badly to fertilizer or to very fertile soils.
After blooming, this plant quickly fades away and goes dormant. As soon as the leaves turn yellow and brown, they can be pulled off and discarded.
Propagating Yellow Fritillary
Yellow fritillary is propagated by digging up the bulbs and separating the smaller bulblets that develop around the mother bulb. The process is similar to that used for dividing lily bulbs:
- In late spring after the foliage has faded, use a shovel or trowel to carefully dig up the yellow fritillary plant, including stem and attached bulbs.
- Using your fingers, break off the small bulblets attached to the mother bulb.
- Replant the mother bulb and the bulblets in the desired locations.
- Thoroughly water the bulbs and mark their locations with small stakes. Smaller bulbs may take several years to develop into a size large enough to support flowering. Unlike other lilies, this species doe not respond well to fertilizing.
Growing Yellow Fritillary From Seed
Growing new plants from seeds is a very slow process that is rarely done, even commercially. It can take several years for seedlings to develop bulbs that are large enough to produce flowers. If you want to experiment with the process, gather the seeds from the pods left behind after the flowers fade, and sow them shallowly in a tray filled with seed-starter mix. Keep the tray moist in a sheltered location, such as a cold frame, until the seedlings appear—this can take a long time, as the seeds may need to go through at least one winter chill season before they germinate.
Once seedlings sprout, continue growing them in the tray for at least a year; in their second spring, the seedlings can be carefully transplanted to individual pots filled with a potting mix/sand blend. Continue growing the new plants in their pots until they begin to produce spring flowers. At this point, the plants can be transplanted into permanent garden locations.
But seed propagation requires great patience and is more useful as an experiment rather than a practical way to create new plants.
Potting and Repotting Yellow Fritillary
Though theoretically possible, container culture is not well suited for growing yellow fritillary. If you want to try it, the same techniques used for lilies may work— a well-draining pot filled with standard potting mix. After flowering, the pot should be moved out of the way, then sheltered in a cold frame or another protected area for overwintering. But this native lily is much better suited for a natural garden setting—or better yet, for enjoying while on nature hikes in native landscapes.
No winter protection is needed for this native lily species. Snow cover is beneficial, but try to keep the bulbs from soaking in damp soil over the winter.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
In the more complicated microclimate of a home garden, the yellow fritillary can 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.
How to Get Yellow Fritillary to Bloom
While this plant blooms quite well (albeit briefly) in its natural habitat, it can be finicky in a garden setting, possibly because the typical garden has conditions that are too fertile. This is a plant that thrives in poor, rocky soils, and it may respond badly if given the kind of environment in which most garden plants thrive. Often, it is the least hospitable areas of a garden that are most likely to support yellow fritillary. It can be especially hard to get yellow fritillary to bloom outside its native areas of the Western U.S. The best chance of success is by planting in an area where other native plants seem to grow readily. It often succeeds in dry meadows and barren rocky areas.
Common Problems With Yellow Fritillary
If you manage to get yellow fritillary to grow and reproduce in your garden, then it will not likely pose any problems at all. But it is very common for gardeners to order this plant from specialty native plant nurseries, only to find that yellow fritillary is poorly suited to their locations. If your home happens to be in a mid-elevation region of the sagebrush country (from Western North Dakota through the Rocky Mountain states to the Sierras) you may well be able to grow this plant. If you live outside these regions, consider yourself very lucky if you get yellow fritillary to grow for you.
Can I simply transplant some yellow fritillary that I find growing wild?
Although transplanting wild plants is tempting and often successful, it is strongly discouraged, as yellow fritillary is quickly losing ground as a plentiful native plant. Many states have laws against harvesting native wild plants from public lands. Your best option is to find a native plant nursery that can send you either bulbs or container-grown plants.
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.
How long does yellow fritillary live?
In a desirable location, yellow fritillary will colonize and last for many years, though this process involves the eventual demise of large bulbs and replacement by offsets. Should you be lucky enough to get yellow fritillary to grow for you, then lifting, dividing, and replanting the bulbs every few years should keep your colony healthy for decades.
Are there other Fritillaria species I can grow?
There are several other species in the Fritillaria genus that are common landscape plants. Most are considerably more showy than the native yellow fritillary
- Fritillaria imperialis (crown imperial) is a 3- to 4-foot-tall plant topped with clusters of yellow-bell-shaped flowers. Hardy in zones 5 to 8, it blooms in May or June.
- Fritillaria michailovskyi is a native of Turkey. It has a similar growth habit to yellow fritillary but has brownish-purple flowers. It is hardy in zones 5 to 8.
- Fritillaria meleagris (snake's head fritillary) is a native of eastern Asia with unusual checkered reddish-brown and purple flowers. Growing 6 to 9 inches tall and flowering in early spring, it is hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Is yellow fritillary edible?
The bulbs can be dug up and eaten, raw or cooked. Yellow fritillary was once a common food source for American Indian tribes, who often ground it into a coarse meal to store for winter. The bulbs are also eaten by bears and rodents, while deer and other grazing wildlife eat the leaves and seed pods.
But it is best not to harvest wild populations of a plant that is becoming increasingly rare.