A bulbous perennial herb of damp, sometimes winter-flooded, neutral grasslands, usually those managed for hay with aftermath grazing. It is frequently planted in other grassland habitats and sometimes becomes naturalised. Lowland.
This species was cultivated in Britain by 1578 but only found in the wild in 1736; it has never been clear whether populations in traditionally managed floodplain meadows in C. and S.E. England are native. Many such populations have been lost through habitat destruction. Much of the decline, however, had occurred by the time of the 1962 Atlas, and losses since then have been limited by protection.
European Temperate element.
Light (Ellenberg): 8
Moisture (Ellenberg): 8
Reaction (Ellenberg): 7
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 4
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.6
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.3
Annual Precipitation (mm): 688
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 98
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: 0.86
Scarce Atlas Account
Fritillaria meleagris L.
This is a grassland plant which thrives best where the usual form of management is a hay cut followed by aftermath grazing. This enables plants which have all their leaves on the flowering stem, as does F. meleagris, to complete their life cycles. The fact that this species often occurs in grassland subjected to flooding may have more to do with the resultant past agricultural tendency to treat such land as a hay meadow than with any ecological dependence on flooding per se. Classic sites for F. meleagris are, or were, meadows adjacent to lowland rivers where the flora consists of twelve or more grasses, a few sedges and a wide range of herbs associated with damp loam soils. Associated species of note are Cardamine pratensis, Ophioglossum vulgatum, Sanguisorba officinalis, Silaum silaus and Thalictrum flavum.
F. meleagris is a perennial which flowers freely in the open but is inhibited by shade from dense scrub. Seed production is of the order of 100 seeds per capsule and germination is in the spring. Survival of the species is likely to be mainly by vegetative reproduction of the bulb. Colonisation of new sites is uncommon, if it occurs at all, possibly because of inhospitable grassland sites created by modern agricultural methods.
This species declined rapidly after 1940 following agricultural intensification by chemicals and mechanisation. Current threats are from gravel extraction but most major sites now have some form of protection.
F. meleagris is endemic to Europe, where it extends from the Alps and Yugoslavia northwards to Britain and Russia; it is also naturalised in Scandinavia.
A detailed account of the ecology and population dynamics of this species in Sweden is given by Zhang (1983). For an account of its occurrence in England, see King & Wells (1993).
D. A. Wells
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
The Wiltshire Flora,
, Newbury, (1993)
Fritillary and martagon - wild or garden?,
, Garden History, Volume 24, p.30-38, (1996)
Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols,
, Königstein, (1986)
The Fritillary in Britain - a historical perspective,
, British Wildlife, Volume 3, p.200-210, (1992)
, London, (1996)
Scarce plants in Britain,
, Peterborough, (1994)