The Crown Imperial: cultivated for centuries
The original habitat of the Crown Imperial includes Turkey, the southeast and west of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kashmir Mountains. Halfway through the sixteenth century, however, the Crown Imperial was brought to Europe, and Carolus Clusius planted the first one in Leiden. This royal flower bulb had already become hugely popular when it began being portrayed in countless paintings and on ceramic tiles in 1610.
How did the Crown Imperial get its name?
Its common name was derived from the literal translation of the specific epithet in its Latin name (imperialis) and the flower’s appearance. ‘Fritillaria‘ came from fritilus (meaning ‘dice cup’), and ‘imperialis’ came from imperium (meaning ’empire’). A flower that looked like an emperor’s crown thus received the apt name of Crown Imperial.
The Crown Imperial in the leading role
The Crown Imperial has played the leading role in more than one legend. One of these was about the reprimand of Jesus. According to this legend, the flowers of the Crown Imperial blooming in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives where Jesus was captured were white. While all the other flowers there bowed their heads in sympathy, the Crown Imperial remained proudly upright. When Jesus kindly reprimanded the flower, the Crown Imperial bowed its head, blushed in shame and shed tears from its stately flower. The second legend was about an exceptionally beautiful Persian queen. Her pure beauty was the reason the king mistrusted her and accused her of infidelity. He banned her from the palace after which she sadly wandered over the fields knowing that she was innocent. She cried so many tears that she shrank to the size of a plant. When she stopped walking, her feet took root in the ground and she changed into a Crown Imperial.
Planting the Crown Imperial
If you would like this imperial flower bulb in your own garden, it’s just a matter of getting started. Once you have purchased these flower bulbs, it’s best not to leave them in their packaging for very long. This is because their roots can start to grow while still in the packaging and could then become damaged. For this reason, plant them as soon as you’ve bought them. A Crown Imperial bulb looks a bit strange because it has a hole in the middle of it. Don’t worry, though. This is just the way they are. The hole is where the old flower stem was located. Crown Imperials will flourish at their most regal in a sunny or partially shady location and should be planted around 20 cm below the soil surface. When planting, make sure that the hole in the flower bulb is facing upward.
Good to know
- The flowers of the Crown Imperial have a foxy scent that comes from the sulfurous terpene produced by the plant itself. This is a useful characteristic, however, since it drives moles, field mice and water voles away.
- The flowers produce large drops of nectar that attract bees and butterflies. You can also taste this delightful honey flavour yourself by giving the flower a gentle tap early in the morning.