Fritillary – Fritillaria meleagris
A nationally scarce bulbous plant that is sometimes called Snakeshead Fritillary, this species is one of the most beautiful wild flowers in the county and a Fritillary meadow in full flower during April and May is an amazing sight.
This perennial herb occurs in unimproved neutral grasslands that are damp, and sometimes winter flooded. Traditional management of such meadows is vital to the success of the Fritillary, and most sites are cut for hay in summer followed by aftermath grazing. It is only regarded as native in North Wiltshire, where it is still found in a number of floodplain meadows in the Upper Thames catchment. One of the best spots to see the Fritillary is at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Nature Reserve, Clattinger Farm, where in April it is possible to see the fragile, nodding flowers across the meadows of the reserve. North Meadow National Nature Reserve near Cricklade is the best place in Wiltshire to see thousands of Fritillaries, with the largest single population of Fritillaries in the country. When they are in bloom the meadow has a purple haze to it. Over eighty percent of the British population of the Fritillary grows here.
The mottled flowers are large and very distinctive, ranging in colour from their usual purple to white, pink or brownish purple; they are drooping and cup shaped and grow 3-5cm long. Each plant normally only has a single flower on one stem 20-40 cm tall that is hairless with narrow-linear alternate stem leaves.
Once common enough to pick by the armload, but now surviving only in a few protected spots the Fritillary is now quite rare due to changing land use. Many of the fertile floodplain meadows where it grew abundantly in the past were lost after the Second World War to ploughing and agricultural improvement.
The Fritillary is a nationally scarce and Red List species. Being protected generally under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to uproot the Fritillary without the landowner’s permission. Fortunately its largest populations in Wiltshire are now almost wholly protected, and its habitat managed sympathetically.