I have never grown Fritillaria gibbosa Boiss. It has always seemed to me rather an unattainable plant which one would have to earn – the hard way, not by monetary means but by first seeing it in its natural habitat. As this is in Iran, Afghanistan and the part of Russia just north of the Kopet Dag ( Furse 1967) and from the Caspian Sea to N.W.China (J.E.Byron 2002) and it favours steppes at a height from 3,000 to 8,000feet, the journey would indeed be both hard and long.
F.gibbosa was found by one Kotschky in 1845 and named F.gibbosa Boiss in 1846, joining the similar F.karelinii in the rhinopetalum section: at that time newly named by virtue of the exaggerated horn-like nectary on the upper petal and considered to be a separate genus. The flower stem of F. gibbosa varies from 4-6 inches, rarely reaching a foot. The wide, shallow flowers vary in colour, too. When Ivor Barton showed a plant in 1965 it was described as ‘suggesting a small and elegant nomocharis’ and ‘palest green-grey, mottled and spotted with deeper grey’. Around then pale pink was also known, slightly chequered or veined with deeper pink This showed the dark pink, deeply pitted inner side of the nectarines to advantage. Since then forms from pink to brick red and even apricot have been found, but there has been little mention of green-grey again.
With what eager anticipation Rear-Admiral and Mrs. Paul Furse must have set out on their expeditions in the sturdy vehicle ‘Rose of Persia’, as they did in 1962. By early March they were in the south-west of Iran, the Zagros mountain range, with many delights and adventures already behind them. In spring the steppes are saturated with snow-melt, wet and sticky, with very little vegetation and that of a prickly, thorny nature.
There they were rewarded by seeing F.gibbosa. Paul Furse wrote that in winter the area would be cold, often under snow. After spring little rain falls; only at snow-melt would the plants be extremely wet, in summer baked.
Here our own winters are increasingly mild and wet, with the attendant risk to early-shooting plants then being frozen in a cold snap. A cold frame or greenhouse allows a light autumn watering for F.gibbosa before a dry winter as recommended. It is still – after almost 60 years – not widely grown, and by no means an easy plant. Only in the last few years have some determined and skilful growers got to grips with raising it successfully from seed.
When I see it on the show bench I admire it greatly, though I am inclined to agree with what an old gypsy woman once said to me ( though about something quite different) ‘Thass not for the likes of such as we’. I still have not been to the mountains of Iran; and if I ever do, there are snowdrops there too……….and I do grow those!