And then I came to a field where the springing grass
Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries,
Sullen and foreign-looking, the snaky flower,
Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls
~ from Vita Sackville West, The Land, 1926
Vita was writing about the Snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), also known by a multitude of other common names, including chequered daffodil, chess flower, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, Lazarus bell, chequered lily, drooping tulip, and leper lily (because its shape resembles the bell once carried by lepers).
Perhaps that association with lepers is why the fritillary is considered by some to be a little sinister. Sackville West certainly wrote negatively of it in The Land and, according to the Poison Garden website, she declared the fritillary to be ‘a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay’. I certainly can’t agree with Vita’s negative opinion of this most unusual of flowers, as I find the combination of unusual chequered pattern, delicate elegance and soft magenta colouring simply stunning.