Upside-Down Tulips

A week or so ago, I bought a new plant: a fritillary in a small pot. By the time I got my acquisition home, the tag had gotten lost. Even then, I might have remembered the name on the tag; but before I could do that, I happened to glance at a package of seeds sitting on the table labelled “Fritillaria verticillata”. Of course, whatever name had been in my mind was immediately erased and replaced with “verticillata”.

This plant is definitely not Fritillaria verticillata, which has white flowers and may be seen here. My plant has an outer layer of brownish purple petals and an inner layer of yellow petals, which peek out from under the outer layers like a petticoat from beneath a skirt. The purple colour was quite saturated when I first brought the plant home, but has faded to a lavender shade, making the yellow more prominent.

I looked at a lot of photos on Google images and thought that my plant might be Fritillaria michailovskyi. I read that this plant was discovered quite recently, in 1983. Last year, two Dutch citizens were apprehended at the border between Turkey and Bulgaria. The men were allegedly trying to smuggle 57 rare tulip bulbs out of Turkey.

However, officials called experts from Trakya University’s Biology Department to look into the matter further. Researchers inspected the confiscated plants and discovered that some, especially the upside-down tulip (Fritillaria Michailovskyi) which is only grown in the eastern province of Erzurum and the eastern district of Şemdinli in Hakkari, were endemic species whose export is illegal. The Fritillaria Michailovskyi is also known as the Adıyaman Lalesi in Turkey.

It was an interesting and worrisome thought that I might have in my own garden a rare, precious “upside-down tulip”; however, the more I looked at photos of Fritillaria michailovskyi and compared them with my own plant, the less convinced I became. My plant is taller than the 20 cm. ascribed to Fritillaria michailovskyi and the colours, both purple and yellow, seemed less intense.

At this point, I’m wavering between Fritillaria assyriaca and Frillaria uva-vulpis. If anyone out there can provide a more definite identification, please comment on this post. In any event, it is a pleasing plant and I hope it thrives in my garden. The planting instructions were pretty much the same for all of these varieties: full sun and good drainage. I’ve planted them on a slope next to some Snowdrops.

Note: the painting below does not accurately depict the colours of the flowers or the foliage.

"Upside-Down Tulips", watercolour and gouache


14 thoughts on “Upside-Down Tulips

  1. A good reading for my tea time! Enjoy it all, painting included of course. I only started to plant Fritillarias in our garden about 3 years ago – F. michailovskyi is available on the market now, I don’t know if it will come back this year, but there is another one that looks a bit like yours called F. acmopetala. I will be watching to see what Fritillarias show up this spring and save the bulbs.


    • I saw a Fritillaria affinis in someone’s garden the other day and now I just have to have one! There is a native plant sale later this month, and I think if I get there early, I might be in luck. Do you have to take the bulbs up in the winter there?


      • No, they do very well as long as in a well drained soil. Some I destroyed for sure with my constant moving things around. I even managed to keep a F. persica – gorgeous foliage but doesn’t want to flower.


  2. Thanks for this identification, as I really was not sure of mine. I don’t know Dichelostemma ida maia, so I will look forward to your post. It’s always a bit of a thrill to discover a new flowering plant.


  3. Hi Daff! I am pretty certain this is Fritilleria uva-vulpis as we grow some in a pot at Cliffe. They are always admired by visitors. I love them. Do you know Dichelostemma ida maia? Another wierd but wonderful. Just flowering with us at the moment, I will try and get a photo and put it on the blog soon. Happy gardening!


  4. I had never thought of fritillaries as upside down tulips before!
    I love the “stylised” nature of the picture – including the lovely blue-black soil.
    I look forward to your next challenge – what will April bring, I wonder?
    By the way, I once did a blog post about the meaning of the word fritillary, which comes from the Latin word for a dice box, fritillus, as the snake’s head fritillary flower and the fritillary butterfly both have a chequered pattern, a bit like dice in a box…
    Best wishes 🙂


    • Yes, I know about your post on the meaning of the word fritillary. I came across your blog when I was searching for the meaning of fritillary for a post I wrote on the same subject. I’ve been following your blog ever since. Recently, after reading your post, “speaking in scientific terms”, I took a copy of William Stearn’s “Botanical Latin” out of the library. Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with it very well at all. Someone obviously needs to write “Botanical Latin for Dummies”! Thanks for your comment on my painting.


  5. I’ve never had a lot of luck growing fritillaria, I think my soil is too heavy. I like the way you segmented the background in this painting. Perhaps the colors aren’t “right” but they are right for this work of art. None of the great painters were all that concerned about getting all the colors perfect. It was more about the emotion engendered by the subject.


    • I haven’t had that much luck, either, but I’ve been reading up. It seems that fritillaries need protection from wetness during their dormant period. My friend has had great success with Fritillaria meleagris planted in grass under trees. I’m glad you liked the painting.


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