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Snake's Head Fritillary

Flower of the Week
Flower of the Week|Snake's Head Fritillary

Continuing the recent, somewhat reptilian theme of FOTW, we move from the Snapdragons of last week to the Snake's Head Fritillary. Once a common site in Britain, the hardy perennial that once bloomed wild across meadows in the South is sadly increasingly rare thanks to increasingly aggressive farming methods.

This particular type of fritillary gained its name thanks to the distinctive snakeskin-type pattern that adorns its bud. Before opening to reveal its checkerboard purple flowers, the bud is also said to resemble the shape of (you guessed it) a snake. Their beauty arrives and changes with the movement of sunlight. As Andy Byfield of The Guardian wrote in his wonderful ode to the flower: 

“When a glaring sun sits high in the sky, they take on a sombre hue: "the springing grass ... dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries" wrote the great Sissinghurst gardener and writer Vita Sackwille-West, in her poem The Land. Yet when backlit in the softer glow of early morning or mid evening, they glow a warm rich red, the colour of a young Beaujolais.”

It is a plant that has inspired much lyrical outpourings in its honour, and it seems fitting that it is the county flower of Oxfordshire, one of the great academic and literary strongholds of the world. Beyond words though, and as much as we love the lilting patterns they bring to a bouquet, they are at their finest in the wildes of an English country meadow - poking up beyond the long grass to remind us of the natural beauty there just bursting to get out, if only we’ll allow it to flourish.

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