A sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay
The Fritillaria meleagris is a flowering plant in the lily family, simply known as fritillary.
It grows 15-25 cm in height, containing poisonous alkaloids. It flowers in April-May, has a strong resemblance to tulips (has nodding, bell- or cup-shaped flowers), one or two flowers on the grey grassy stems, and pendant bells in white, purple or pink.
The optimal habitats for the delicate flower are grasslands in damp soils and river. The fritillary is an effective sentinel for environmental change. As the flower becomes rarer and rarer in the wild, it draws attention to the vulnerability of the entire ecosystem.
According to the IUCN Red List, the fritillary is vulnerable in Romania and Ukraine, endangered in Hungary and Switzerland, critically endangered in Slovakia, while in the Czech Republic and Belgium it is on the extinct list.
The flower’s name comes from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box, possibly referring to the checkered pattern of the petals, while meleagris means “spotted like a guineafowl”. The color of the “squares” on the petals may vary from carmine red to pale pink. Its unusual appearance intrigued people, giving the flower interesting names like snake's head fritillary (the original English name), chess flower, guinea-hen flower, guinea flower, Lazarus bell (most probably because of its shape), chequered lily, daffodil, drooping tulip etc.
The fritillary population in Romania has declined for two reasons in the last decades: its beauty meant it was picked in huge quantities and abusively, while the land where it grew was drained and given to crops. Now, it is on the red list of endangered species (not only in Romania, but Europe wide): some of its natural habitats were declared protected memorial parks, in order to stop the extinction of such rare beauty.
In Transylvania, between Deményháza (Dămieni) and Búzaháza (Grâușorul) there is a 25 hectares territory, where every spring the fritillary enchants, not only the realm, but also the visitors. This is, most probably, the largest population of the fritillary flower in the region.
The blooming of the fritillary near Búzaháza (Grâușorul) is an unforgettable experience for everyone who witnesses it. The beginning of May means that the wet meadow becomes colorful, attracting the tourists, who are always fascinated by what they see, but also the insects “responsible” for its pollination. It is true, one needs patience and endurance to sit and wait on the wet ground to take a picture of the flower, but the experience and the end result are most certainly worth it. The preservation of this meadow with its decay-colored magic flowers shall be the responsibility not just of ecologists and nature lovers, but of all of us.