Fritillaria affinis has just begun flowering in the Garry Oak Meadow at the UBC Botanical Garden. The meadow is part of a recent initiative to expand the garden’s native plant collections. To learn more about this unique and threatened landscape in British Columbia, visit the site of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team.
Native to western North America, Fritillaria affinis populations can be found in southern British Columbia through to California. Common English names include checker lily, chocolate lily, or mission bells.
Flowers can be single or in clusters of 3-5 and are produced in the spring (April-May). They can range from 1-4cm long, and are often purple as a base colour, then checkered with greenish-yellow dots. In fact, the genus name is based on this checkered pattern: Fritillaria is derived from the Latin fritillus, which means “dice box”.
Flower shape and colour can vary significantly depending on location (e.g., see the Pacific Bulb Society Wiki on North American Fritillaria). All flowers are hermaphroditic, though, meaning they have both staminate (pollen-producing) and carpellate (ovule-producing) structures.
This perennial plant can range in height from 10 to 130cm. The leaves can range from 3-15 cm long, and are often arranged in whorls of 3-5 leaves along the stem. Plants emerge from a bulb typically surrounded by smaller bulblets.
The USDA NRCS has an extensive factsheet about Fritillaria affinis (PDF), including details about the traditional harvest and cultivated management of these bulbs by the Coast and Interior Salish First Nations.