I bought a chequered lily last week (Fritillaria meleagris) as I decided to choose it for being our major Easter decoration. I discovered it couple of years ago in Germany and since it has been my favorite flower of the Lent. It is a Eurasian species of flowering plant in the lily family. Its common names include snake’s head fritillary, snake’s head (the original English name), chess flower, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, guinea flower, leper lily (because its shape resembled the bell once carried by lepers), Lazarus bell, chequered lily, chequered daffodil, drooping tulip or, in northern Europe, simply fritillary.
The name Fritillaria comes from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box, possibly referring to the chequered pattern on the flowers although this derivation has been disputed. The name meleagris means “spotted like a guineafowl. The common name “snake’s head” probably refers to the somewhat snakelike appearance of the nodding flower heads on their long stems. Vita Sackville West called it “a sinister little flower, in the mournful color of decay.
The flower has a chequered pattern in shades of purple, or is sometimes pure white. It flowers from March to May and grows between 15–40 cm in height. The plant has a button-shaped bulb, about 2 cm in diameter, containing poisonous alkaloids. It grows in grasslands in damp soils and river meadows at altitudes up to 800 m.
Fritillaria meleagris is native to Europe and Western Asia but in many places it is an endangered species that is rarely found in the wild but is commonly grown in gardens. In Croatia, the flower is known as kockavica and is associated by some with the country’s national symbol. It is the official flower of the Swedish province of Uppland, where it grows in large quantities every spring at the meadows in Kungsängen (Kings meadow), just outside Upsala, which gives the flower its Swedish name, kungsängslilja (Lily of Kings meadow). It is also found for example in Sandemar Nature Reserve, a nature reserve west of Dalarö in Stockholm Archipelago. It is also a symbol of the Italian Botanical Garden Alpino di Pietra Corva.