Plant of the Week
Yellow Fritillary (Fritillaria pudica)
By Edna Rey-Vizgirdas, Forest Botanist, Boise National Forest
A member of the Lily Family (Liliaceae), yellow fritillary or “yellowbells” is a delightful wildflower native to the western United States and Canada. These dainty plants, seldom more than 8 inches tall, flower soon after snowmelt, generally from March to June. One (sometimes two) yellow, bell-shaped flowers hang from the top of the flowering stalk. The small flowers are about 3/4-inch-long and fade to rusty orange or purple. Two to several linear leaves frame the flower stalk near the base of the plant. The plants’ above ground parts disappear a few weeks after flowering.
Roughly 100 species of Fritillaria are distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. The Latin word “fritillus” means dice box, which probably refers to the checkered floral pattern that’s characteristic of many species. Other beautiful members of this genus found in the western U.S. include chocolate lily (F. biflora), spotted fritillary (F. atropurpurea), and checker lily (F. affinis).
The bulbs of yellow fritillary were eaten raw or cooked by numerous Native American tribes. Rich in starch, bulbs could also be dried and stored for later use. The nutritious bulbs are relished by bears and rodents. Deer eat the leaves and seed pods.
Yellow fritillary was collected during the Lewis and Clark expedition on May 8, 1806, while they were camped along Idaho’s Clearwater River. The striking flowers must have been a welcome sight, since expedition members were eager for the spring thaw so they could safely traverse the Rocky Mountains.
Perhaps these lovely yellowbells are nature’s way of welcoming the spring. Soon after yellow fritillary blooms, the high country’s snow will be replaced by vast carpets of wildflowers.