Fritillaria Imperialis

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What is Fritillaria Imperialis?

‘Inverted tulip’, ‘Mary’s tears tulip’ or ‘Caesar’s crown tulip’ (scientific name: Fritillaria imperialis) is a species of the tulip family that is native to a wide area of ​​the Iranian plateau, Anatolia and the foothills of the Himalayas.

It is a bulbous herbaceous plant that grows at an altitude of 1,500 meters above and among stony and rocky slopes. Sixty species of this plant have been identified all over the world, of which 15 species exist in Iran and grow naturally in this country. This flower grows up to a height of 120 cm from the ground, and if protected from grazing animals and human selfishness, up to 10,000 branches can be seen on a plain. The pale, lemon-yellow variety of this flower is known as the Zagros tulip in Iran.

The inverted tulip or Fritillaria imperialis was first scientifically identified in 1571 and named “Fritillary”. This flower was taken to Constantinople by a European traveler, the ambassador of the Roman emperor, transferred the tulip seed from Constantinople to Vienna, and then it was cultivated in the gardens of the royal family and the rich


The Mythological Story of Fritillaria imperialis

The name ‘Mary’s tears’ goes back to mythological stories; That this tulip witnessed Siavash’s death and was overcome with grief and tears (Siavash is the symbol of innocence in Iranian literature and mythology). The tears of the inverted tulip are actually colorless sap that is inside the tulip and sometimes flow down. They are also called ‘Tear flowers’ because some dew collects between these flowers and then drips down from them.

This mythological reference is the reason this flower is known in some regions of Iran, especially in Paveh and Oramanat, as ‘Siavash’s tear flower’.  Some consider this flower’s reversed form to be due to its sadness and some attribute it to its shame and shyness. Most of the inverted tulip flowers are upside down, and that’s why this name has been assigned to them. ‘Mary’s tears’ is a type of upside-down tulip, which is known by this name because of the clear and sweet sap overflowing from its inside. The Kurds of Iran believe that whoever picks this flower, the doors of God’s mercy and blessings will be closed on him, and for this reason, they call it the bread-cutting flower.

Fritillaria Imperialis in History & Literature

It is interesting how there are traces of this spectacular and rare flower in the history of Iran as well. The motif of the inverted tulip can be seen on the capitals of the Sassanid period and in the Bostan arch, next to the Sassanid king’s figure. The inverted tulip, a unique flower, shines like a rare jewel in Iran’s land, its “original habitat”.

In literary and historical writings too, there are references to the inverted tulip. In the Shahnameh of Hakim Abulqasem Ferdowsi, for instance, in telling the story of Siavash, a flower is mentioned, which becomes sad and drops its head when it witnesses the death of Siavash.

 When it sees that cypress (Siavash) bent and breathless / When it saw the whole plain filled with his blood,

It lowered its head from grief and was thence the inverted tulip

In the spring, expectations are fulfilled and a suitable condition is provided for the growth and the blooming of reversed tulips. From the end of April to the beginning of the rainy season is the best time to see this enchanting plant. The northern areas of Zagros host this flower as the weather warms, and its southern areas also host it in the middle of summer. In Western Europe, the flowering begins in spring and continues until June. The short life and rarity of this flower is a strong reason to appreciate this jewel of Iran’s nature more and make more efforts to protect it.

Fritillaria Imperialis on the Verge of Extinction

Despite the significance of the inverted tulip, unfortunately, this flower is in danger of extinction and many human factors threaten the life of this beautiful flower, such as:

  • Excessive presence of native and non-native travelers
  •  Picking the flowers and removing the tubers and bulbs from the inside (propagation of the inverted tulip is done through bulbs and seeds, and it takes more than 6 years to reach the flowering stage. Therefore, picking its flowers prevents them from blooming for up to three years.)
  •  Digging the roots of flowers by tourists for planting in personal gardens and for medicinal use
  •  Breaking the stems of flowers due to spreading underlays and carpets
  •  trampling the tulips due to unprincipled and unnecessary traffic of visitors in the plains and their failure to control their children and prevent them from damaging the flowers
  •  Excessive livestock grazing in the plains, especially toward the end of May and June and during the seeding stage of flowers.
  •  Pests and diseases caused by biological weakness of tulips due to human factors
  •  Climate change and drought