Herbs, perennial, bulbose; bulbs with 1-several large fleshy scales and 0-many small scales (often called rice-grain bulblets). Stem 1, erect, simple, absent in nonflowering individuals. Leaves alternate or whorled proximally in some species, sessile; blade linear to ± ovate; nonflowering individuals with single elliptical, ovate, or obovate 'bulb-leaf.' Inflorescences loosely racemose, bracteate; bracts leaflike. Flowers 1-many, usually nodding, 3-merous; perianth hypogynous, campanulate or cupulate; tepals 6, in 2 similar whorls, distinct, nectaries present on all tepals, but better developed on inner ones; stamens 6, included; anthers adnate to filaments near middle; ovary superior, ± sessile; style unbranched or 3-branched. Fruits capsular, 3-locular, 6-angled or -winged, thin-walled, ± rounded, dehiscence loculicidal. Seeds many, in 2 rows per locule, yellowish to brownish, flat. x = 12, 13, often with chromosome fragments.
A number of Fritillaria species are grown as ornamentals, although North American species can be difficult to grow and many have not been tried. Most require well-drained soil, full sun, and no summer watering. Native Americans used the bulbs of various species as food, typically roasted, sometimes dried for later use.