Fairybells or Yellow Mandarin

Fairybells or Yellow Mandarin

Disporum lanuginosum

Fairy Bells in bloom
Fairy Bells in bloom

Here’s a new species for me: Fairybells! The nodding, yellowish-green flowers of this woodland understory plant are easy to miss, and perhaps that’s why I’ve never noticed it before. The plant itself looks a bit like false solomon’s seal, except that the stem is branched. The stems are pubescent (see photos) and purplish; the elliptical leaves are alternate, sessile, and entire. The leaves are ribbed with strong parallel veination (see photo at right).

The flowers hang in "twos or threes" from the tip of the stems
The flowers hang in “twos or threes” from the tip of the stems

The pendant flowers of this plant hang from the tips of the upper branches in sets of 2 or 3, but they are usually hidden from view because they drape beneath the leaves. They are about an inch across and appear to be comprised of 6 narrow petals that are pointed and reflexed like a lily (Family Liliaceae). Technically, the flowers are really composed of three sepals and three petals, but the structures look the same. Overall, the shape of the flower resembles a bell–hence the common name fairybell. Later in the summer, the flowers are replaced by orange-red berries, which quickly become food for wildlife. See photos in the gallery below.

Photographing yellow mandarin at Wildwood Park

The first time I saw this plant, it was growing on a moist hillside at Primland resort, near Meadows of Dan, Virginia.  Growing nearby was white trillium, meadow rue, and a few morels.  I later saw it growing along the banks of Big Stoney Creek in Giles County, and then at Mill Creek Nature Conservancy in the Ellett Valley.  My latest find, and the one where it appeared to be growing in the greatest numbers, was at Wildwood Park in Radford. The plants were growing along the stream there, beside blue cohosh, bellwort, delphinium, and Jack in the Pulpit.

Bloomtime for Yellow mandarin is April and May. Get out there now and see it! 🙂

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne J. Campbell says:

    How delicate.

  2. Mary dudley says:

    When was it first identified ? Sounds like a rather “new” find!

    1. gloria says:

      Mary, it was only new to me…this is such a subtle wildflower, hidden as it is beneath the leaves…you have to turn the branches over to see the flower, so all this time I’ve missed it! Now I see it everywhere I go in April and May! 🙂

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