Fritillaria is a genus of about 100 species of bulbous plants in the family Liliaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The name is derived from the Latin term for a dice-box (fritillus), and probably refers to the checkered pattern, frequently of chocolate-brown and greenish yellow, that is common to many species’ flowers. Collectively, the genus is known in English as fritillaries; some North American species are called missionbells.
They often have nodding, bell- or cup-shaped flowers, and the majority are spring-flowering. Most species’ flowers have a rather disagreeable scent, often referred to as “foxy,” like feces or wet fur. The Scarlet Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii) eats fritillaries, and may become a pest where these plants are grown in gardens.
Several species (such as F. cirrhosa and F. verticillata) are used in traditional Chinese cough remedies. They are listed as chuān bèi (Chinese: 川貝) or zhè bèi (Chinese: 浙貝), respectively, and are often in formulations combined with extracts of Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). F. verticillata bulbs are also traded as bèi mǔ or, in Kampō, baimo (Chinese/Kanji: 貝母, Katakana: バイモ). F. thunbergii is contained in the standardized Chinese herbal preparation HealthGuard T18, taken against hyperthyroidism.
Most fritillaries contain poisonous alkaloids such as imperialin; some may even be deadly if ingested in quantity. But the bulbs of a few species – e.g. Checker Lily (F. affinis) or Yellow Fritillary (F. pudica) – are edible if prepared correctly. They are not generally eaten in large amounts however, and their edibility is therefore still somewhat debatable.