Saturday, December 24, 2005
Merry Bells and Fairy Bells
I'm not sure why, in the middle of winter, that I've been thinking today about the woodland lilies; a group of six genera of plants that are in the lily family: Disporum, Smilacina, Streptopus, Polygonatum, Uvularia, and Disporopsis. I don't grow Streptopus, though S. rosea, or rosy twisted stalk is native to Iowa, and I remember seeing it in the woods as a child. I do have examples of all of the other groups growing here in the garden, and they can be sort of confusing: Disporum has five species in this country, and another thirty five or so in Asia, and are often called merry bells or fairy bells (though the two species in the S.E. of this country are often called mandarins). Uvularia is native just to this country, and look for all the world like Disporums (but they have capsules instead of berries for seed). Iowa has two native Uvularias, which we usually call merry or fairy bells, since we have no Disporums... then there are the Solomon's seals (Polygonatum), the false Solomon's seals (Smilacina), and what are sometimes called evergreen Solomon's seals (Disporopsis). Well, anyway, someday I'm going to write up a real report on all of these, with pictures of all of them we grow... in the meantime you might want to consider growing Disporum flavens (also called flavum, or just for real confusion, in older literature, uniflora). This is also called Korean bellflower or fairy bells. It is usually thought to be the best of the genus, being fairly tall, to two feet, and very healthy and vigorous looking. It is one of those plants (like Jack in the pulpit) that sort of unfolds as it arises in the spring, so it always is interesting to watch; when I first grew it, I thought it had been damaged by frost, as it appeared all crooked and bent over in early April, but then it unfolded and rose up, and bloomed, with its pretty, light lemon yellow flowers.