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FRITILLARIA MELEAGRIS H.

BETTRIDGE, M .

M.

Compiled by

W H I T I N G , and J.

C. N.

F. W .

SIMPSON

WILLIS

Mrs. Bettridge has found in a German " History of Flower Painting " an Illustration of Fritillaria meleagris with a note on the plant : Extract from " Das Blumen Bouquet ", translated into German from the French by Paul Baudisch, 1960. Here is her translation into English. " At this time (about the year 1600) the passionate interest in Botany was so great that even refugees who had to fly in haste from their inhospitable fatherland because their life was in danger took with them in their luggage bulbs and tubers. In this wav all sorts of flowers growing on the Continent were introduced into England. Such is the story of that doctor from Orleans, Noel Caperon, who had found near his home the Checker flower (Schackblumen) Fritillaria meleagris, and had taken to England after the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Night in 1572, his precious treasure." I sent this on to Miss Whiting asking if she could find any evidence in the Herbarium at Kew of the existence of the plant in this country before that date. She says it is not recorded as a wild plant before 1736, but comments that one way of plants being brought here from Europe was when there was so much traffic between religious houses. She referred my question to Mr. Meikle who says " F. meleagris is a native of the Rhine Valley and was in England at the time when the Rhine ran farther north over what is now the North Sea. Nosmugglingthen." Following Mr. Meikle's remark, one may add that at the period he refers to the Thames was a tributary of the Rhine, joining it somewhere north-east of Suffolk and the Suffolk rivers were tributaries of the Thames. Probably the Fritillary was indigenous throughout the great Rhine basin in England, Germany, and France (having no names then). Still it does seem a pity to discount a touching story of devotion to Botany. I have looked for other mention of Noel Caperon. Canon Raven in his " English Naturalists " teils us that the English botanist, Thomas Penny (a Lancashire man) went on purpose to Orleans to study plant-physiology with Natalis (Noel) Caperon, who is credited by Parkinson (1567-1650) in his " Paradisus " with being the first discoverer of Fritillaria meleagris. (Penny named it Fritillaria caperonius in compliment to him). But Canon Raven goes on to say that Caperon was among some 500 victims slaughtered as Huguenots at Orleans by the Catholics.


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FRITILLARIA MELEAGRIS

If that is so, it seems to dispose of Caperon's flight to England with his Fritillary. Gerard has a nice wood-cut of the " Chequered Daffodil or Ginny-hen Floure " in his " H e r b a l l " (original edition 1597) but this is probably one of those figures drawn by the German Tabernaemontanus (Bergzabern) that Gerard helped himself to. " Plagiarism," says Marcus Woodward, editor of the 1927 reprint of the " Herball ", " was rife in those days " (not quite unknown today even, when the Law of Copyright does protect an author if he chooses t o bring an action for a breach of Copyright.

Poor

old Gerard with a blot on his name prefers the name Ginny-hen Floure as English or Chequered Daffodil—"Fritillariaifyou prefer Latine, from the table or board on which men play Chesse " (Fritillus, a dice-box). Meleagris also refers to chequers, the chequers of the Guineafowl (Guttera, the spotted one). It is a sad tale : Meleager was a great hero, one of the Argonauts and he helped in the killing of the Calydonian wild boar that was ravaging his father's small kingdom of Calydon, and he gave the skin to Atalanta, his beloved, but his uncles snatched it from her. So Meleager killed them. His mother was very angry about this, so she killed Meleager by witchcraft. And this is where the flower comes in. His sisters, Meleagrides, wailed so much over him, that Diana turned them into Guinea hens and put them on the island of Leros to wail out of hearing. So these are the chequers, though the chequer-flower has not been hard to wail like the fowl. [This is not all Botany, but perhaps you will forgive my resort to the Classical Dictionary.] Mrs. Bettridge also sent an extract from " Familiar Wild Flowers ", Book V, by F. Edward Hulme, F.L.S., F.S.A. in which he describes the frontispiece of " Rariorum Plantarum Historia " of Clusius (Dutch, Charles de l'Ecluse) " Adam in the simplicity of Eden's earliest days on one side, on the other Solomon with crown and royal robes and sceptre bearing in his hand a book . . . Above Adam, in a pot, is a Turk's-cap Lily and by his side is the Fritillaria meleagris ; while Solomon has associated with him the Cyclamen and Crown imperial—Fritillaira imperialis." Now let Mr. Simpson carry on with the Fritillary where it survives today. T H E STATUS AND DISTRIBUTION OF

Fritillaira meleagris

AT THE PRESENT

IN SUFFOLK

DAY

AT one time Fritillaria meleagris was common and frequently very abundant in damp old meadows in several parts of SufTolk. Although there are instances where it has no doubt been introduced or found growing on the sites of former gardens or parks, I have


216 Transactions of the Suffolk Naturalists',

Vol. 13, Part 4

little hesitation in claiming the species to be a good native of our County. Its past and present distribution clearly follows a certain pattern where its main habitats are all situated in gently sloping Valleys in the Upper reaches of our rivers or their tributaries, often near their sources. All the sites I have investigated show a marked similarity. The river Valleys are the Gipping, Deben, Aide, Blyth, and Waveney in East Suffolk, and the Blackbourn and Lark in West Suffolk. There is little doubt that in early times these habitats were then fairly open damp grassy glades in the great, mainly oak forests, which covered most of Suffolk. One must not consider these forests of Suffolk and East Anglia, even on the Boulder Clay, as being thick and impenetrable, as they are so often described in our history books. This in my vievv is quite erroneous. The forests wcre not dense jungles in their natural State, but fairly open with plenty of room for movement under and between the ancient trees. Dense jungles of thorn and scrub in this County are only a phase in the development of woodland and forest. They are man-made, due to Clearing away the ancient trees, or allowing farmland to remain uncultivated, but in time the forest trees come up again and the thorn and scrub will die back. In ancient times before the Romans came, there were large herds of deer, wild boar*, and even wild ox. These mammals created tracks through the forest and no doubt kept areas open for grazing. As the forests were cleared for the Settlements and agriculture, the habitats of Fritillaria meleagris being permanently damp, were left only for grazing. Many remained thus, unploughed, even after the Enclosure Acts, so that the species persisted in their almost " virgin " sites. In one habitat, it is still associated with Anemone nemorosa and other woodland plants, and I think that this is further evidence pointing conclusively to the former nature of the Suffolk sites. Today Fritillaria meleagris has become very local or rare owing to the destruction of nearly all its sites by drainage, ploughing, and change of management, or even overpicking and digging up of the bulbs. Only one site now remains in Suffolk, at Framsden, where the beautiful flowers can be observcd in great abundance. Fortunately it is at present given fĂźll protection, otherwise the 'Note. The Wild Ox, or Auroch of Europe, now extinct as a truly wild species, was once common in England and Scotland. The date of its extermination is unknown, but it is very probable that it still existed in small numbers even down to the time of the Roman Conquest. The European Wild Boar, or Pig was once -very abundant throughout the British Isles. The exact date of its extermination is also unknown, but Boar hunting was a favourite pursuit until the middle of the 16th Century. It is known that some were killed in Suffolk as late as 1572. F.W.S.


FRITII.LARIA

217

MELEAGRIS

flowers would soon all be picked. We hope that the future of this site will be adequately safeguarded by the Naturalists' Trust or the Nature Conservancy. I can recall other meadows in the area vvhere the Fritillary used to occur and flower abundantly. There was a particular chain of meadows vvest of Debenham to Wetheringsett in the Vale of the infant Deben, where they were plentiful. These have practically all been destroyed. However, one small meadow at Mickfield is preserved. This was purchased at my suggestion in 1938, when I realised what was taking place, by the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves. Here the Fritillary still occurs in considerable numbers, but the flowers cannot be properly protected from being gathered and from the vicious attacks of pheasants and wood pigeons which have a great liking for only the half opened buds. A few flowers are still occasionally found in valley meadows at the Stonhams, these parishes are situated in the small tributaries of the Gipping. I have been told that flowers have been picked at Bramford, much lower down the Valley. Some years ago I found several specimens in a meadow at Tostock in the Upper Blackbourn Valley. Old records also mention Woolpit in this Valley. I know that specimens have been found in recent years at Walshamle-Willows. It used to occur at Hawstead and Whepstead in the Lark valley. The Whepstead site has been named Rectory Meadow but this has been ploughed up and I think only a few now survive in the Rectory grounds. I have no knowledge of any recent finds in the Laxfield area high up the Blyth valley where it once grew in the 18th Century in great abundance in a place called " Scarce Fen ", and several other pastures. It is extinct in the Aide valley at Stratford St. Andrew and Sternfield. At Ashbocking it still grows under trees in private grounds. Here it was no doubt planted, I have records of single flowers having been found near Seckford Hall, Martlesham. It does occur, or did a few years ago, in the grounds of Giffords Hall, Wickhambrook where it was probably planted. A few of the cream-coloured variety have been found on the site of an old cottage garden at Stradishall. Some years ago, one of our late members, Mr. Gale of Stuston Lodge, told me that after Clearing a shrubbery, numbers of Fritillaries appeared and flowered the following Spring. They had not been observed there previously, but the dense shade had prevented flowering. It is very likely that Fritillaria meleagris still occurs in a number of places which I have overlooked. F.

W.

SIMPSON.

Fritillaria Meleagris  
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