Fritillaria affinis var. affinis

Posted by on Mar 30, 2011 in Farm Blog, Flora and Fauna, Native Plants | 31 comments

Now that we’re finally seeing a break in the rain, I set out this morning to photograph some of the daffodils on the property.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, a surprise, and very welcome discovery!

Fritillaria affinis var. affinis

This beautiful, unassuming flower was lurking in the shade of an oak at the edge of the daffodils we’d planted on a bank this last fall.

This was supposed to be a post about daffodils...until I found the Fritillaria

I’m fairly certain I squealed, which was fine as nobody was around to see the crazy person kneeling on the ground, grinning from ear to ear, scrutinizing what probably looked like nothing more than a generic clump of weeds to a passer by.

This Fritillaria is growing among the grasses in the shade of an oak tree

It’s difficult to put into words just how excited I was to find this flower.  I’ve personally never seen a Fritillaria growing in the wild, let alone growing wild on our own property!  I think I had a grin that would rival the Cheshire Cat’s all the way back to my office.

Fritillaria affinis var. affinis

Fritillaria affinis, also known as Checker Lily, or Mission Bells, is native to the west coast of North America from California to British Columbia, and eastward to Idaho.

Fritillarias grow from bulbs, similar to our native Calchortus discovered here last year.

Non-blooming plants often can be identified by the presence of an ovate ‘bulb leaf’. A few such leaves were near the base of this blooming stem, hopefully a sign of future Fritillaria to come.

Non blooming plants may have an ovate to elliptical 'bulb-leaf'

The leaves on the stems of blooming Fritillaria affinis are lanceolate, in whorls at the base of the stem, and becoming sparse and single toward the tip.

The lanceolate leaves of Fritillaria affinis

Typically growing in oak scrub and grasslands, Fritillaria affinis can be highly variable in color and form.  The bell-shaped, nodding flowers may be brownish-purple with yellow mottling, to yellow-green with purple mottling. [1] This specimen was much more yellow-green overall with minimal dark mottling.

Fritillaria affinis var. affinis

The flowers of Fritillaria affinis consist of six perianth segments, each of which contains a nectary. [2] As an early blooming pollen and nectar source, I suppose I shouldn’t have been all that surprised when this native bee appeared in front of the lens…

This native bee (mining bee?) seemed as excited to find this flower as I was!

We haven't yet identified this species of bee. The abdomen is nearly black, with copper-orange colored hairs on the thorax

This bee seemed more interested in nectar than pollen

I searched carefully in this area to see if I could find more Fritillarias blooming, but I only found one other, albeit damaged, specimen growing nearby.  Apparently deer like to eat the buds from these flowers, so these blooms may not last for long.

The stem of this Fritillaria is nearly snapped, and the buds are unlikely to open

The leaves of this Fritillaria were nibbled too

The roots of Fritillaria affinis have long been known as an important food resources for many native peoples of the west including the Okanagon, Salish, Shuswap, and Thompson. [3]

This Fritillaria was growing in an area that we’ve invested countless hours over the last few years diligently removing invasive French Broom.  There are still occasional broom seedlings that sprout after the rains, but they’re now relatively easy to keep under control.

Unopened bud of Fritillaria affinis

There’s a certain sense of self-satisfaction that comes from seeing a truly wild native plant re-appear in area that was once completely infested with invasive non-natives.  Hopefully we’ll find even more Fritillaria blooming in the same area next year.

[1] Hickman, James C., editor. 1993. The Jepson Manual Higher Plants of California

[2] Fiedler, P.L. and Watters, C. M. Rare Lilies of California. 1996 California Native Plant Society

[3] Daniel E. Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotanical Database


  1. Dear Clare, I would have been right there with you . . . in delightful squeals! Congratulations!! I am sure your clearing out the broom has allowed this jewel to resurface. I love the delicate bloom. What a treasure and i would guess it made your day if not week. Brava!
    Carol´s last post…Birds in Review Part XXXI A Bird Parade Thrilling Thrushes

    • It definitely made my day…something else just made my week, but that’s for tomorrow’s post 😉

  2. Squeeeeeeeee!!!!!!

    I adore fritillaria! You are a lucky woman to have found this on your property.
    Lisa´s last post…Fearsome Fluffiness

    • I’m very lucky. After finding so many wildflowers last spring, and never seeing one, I figured they just didn’t grow here. I’m so happy to be wrong! 😉

  3. How cool is that! I’m so glad for you, and lovely photos!

  4. Very cool!!!

  5. What a beauty. And I agree it must be very gratifying to have such flowers appear naturally. That bee looks like the species of wild mason bees we have in our garden (Osmia rufa or Osmia bicornis). But it’s hard to tell. I am also prone to squealing in the garden!
    Barbara´s last post…First spring manoeuvre in the war on slugs – building a raised bed

    • I thought he looked a little like a red Mason Bee too, but I’m not sure his body shape is quite right. Trouble is, there are soooo many native bees! Might take me a little while before I know for sure who this fellow was.

  6. A rare find and a rare beauty too by looking at your great photos!
    p3chandan´s last post…Wordless Wednesday – Perforated!

  7. Oooh, I am green with envy, what a gorgeous find. I have a weakness for frits, and am on a mission to have as many different varieties as I can find. Love the mottling on the petals.
    Deborah at Kilbourne Grove´s last post…It’s my blog- and I’ll cry if I want to!

  8. Clare, you must be beyond excited, as was I reading this post. that flower is absolutely wonderful and the sense of accomplishment knowing that removing the weeds helped clear the way for its growth. Congratulations.
    Marguerite´s last post…On the Inside

  9. It’s so exciting finding something like this in the wild and I hope that the deer don’t find it too soon. All of the Fritillaria in my garden have been planted by myself and last year I let them go to seed and now I have tiny blades of grass which eventually will become fritillaria blooms once they are big enough.

    I think your bloom is very attractive and most unusual compared to the UK Fritillaria. It looks very elegant as it hangs from that stem.

    Sorry about the devasating weather you’ve been having. Spring equinox always seems to bring the storms……. we’ve gale force winds here today.

  10. Fantastic,…I can imagine your joy! I know I have a running list of the natives on our place nad if I find a new one, I’m over the moon, but this little beauty! What a find! Nice photos with a nice fine focus: brings out the ruffley edges of the bloom. And the furry feet of the bee.
    Sue Langley´s last post…wordless wildish wednesday

    • I’m the same way, I keep tabs on all the natives I find here. I’m surprised that I’m still finding ones I haven’t seen before!

  11. Lucky you. No wonder you squealed. It looks very elegant. Fritillarias are wonderful flowers and you must be very proud to have them come to your garden.
    easygardener´s last post…Wordless Wednesday – Flowers in the pond

  12. Self-satisfaction? How understated! Delight – to see the wild return ;~) An ‘earth smiles in flowers’ moment.
    Elephant’s Eye´s last post…Rocher Pan- birds by the sea

    • Diana, I love that…’Earth smiles in flowers’…perfect!

  13. I never knew (or more likely had forgotten) that there are native fritillarias. Now you have profiled one, and Ink and Penstemon has described another beautiful native. I will have to look into these.
    Carolyn @ Carolyn’s Shade Gardens´s last post…The Sex Lives of Hellebores &amp Tara Thank You

    • I hadn’t realized we had so many native Fritillaria here. There are apparently at least five species that occur here in Santa Cruz county. Fritillaria affinis, F. agrestis, F. biflora, F. falcata, and F. liliacea. Three of them are very rare though, but all are quite beautiful! 🙂

  14. Amazing how such small pleasures bring us such great joy. I’m excited for you!
    Carolyn♥´s last post…What did I DO all Winter

  15. I loved this post, not only because it was about the fritillaria, but because of how excited you were to find it. I hope you find more or that they multiply next year.

    I just read a blog post about spraying eggs on plants and that the deer won’t eat them. Have you tried that? Sounded interesting to me.
    Catherine´s last post…Looking for color on another dreary day

    • We have…it didn’t work. While we were trouble shooting our deer fence breaches last spring we tried. The persistent deer decimated the peach tree anyway 🙁

  16. Wow, a beautiful and rare native flower and a native bee to go with it – what a find! That little bee does seem very happy with the discovery and if you could get close enough with the lens it’s probably grinning like a Cheshire Cat too!
    GippyGardener´s last post…The Monarchs have emerged!

    • The bee seemed very pleased with herself when she found the nectar in the flower. I saw a native bumble bee on the same bloom this morning when I was showing Mr. Curbstone where the flower was! Clearly we need to propagate more of these plants if the bees like them that much! 😉

  17. Yippee! I grinned too when I saw what you’d discovered. They are always a treasure when found and luckily you appreciate it. Too many don’t look closely at what they have growing under their feet.

    I use tape to seal bent or broken stems…and still get the blooms to open. Just needs to be held together.

    All spring joys to you…I lecture at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden next week and I can’t WAIT to see what’s blooming everywhere.

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

    • Oh lucky you! I bet the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden will be ablaze with blooms! The trouble when I go to places like that is I want to come home with one of everything! Thanks for the tape tip, I’ve never tried that!

  18. Among your many other talents, you have a keen eye … beautiful surprise, Clare.

  19. There’s something special about those native wildflowers that we find growing unassumingly in the spring. I like to walk my property in May, keeping a careful eye out for lady’s slippers and trillium. Your fritillaria is a special find. -Jean
    Jean´s last post…Toward a More Earth-Friendly Garden

  20. Hey Clare,

    Science Friday yesterday on NPR had a segment on bees (it was at the end of the broadcast). In particular, they had someone from the DC Museum of Natural History who is a bee expert and he talked about the INSANE # of bee species in the world & us. They web site has a identification tool that may prove helpful. cheers!

    • Thanks Chef Tanya, I’ll stop by and check out their ID tool. I’ve tried the one at…but that only narrowed it down to about 60 species 😉

  21. I’m so excited for you! I have a lot of bulb seeds coming up from locally gathered seed, and in a couple years they’ll be ready to share. Not this one, though. I’d love to get some seeds!
    Country Mouse´s last post…Trouble in Paradise – part the first