Smith’s Fairybell

Smith’s fairybell (Prosartes smithii) is a perennial native belonging to the Lily Family. It occurs in redwood forests and other moist, shady forests  near the coast from Southern Vancouver Island through California.

The branched, fuzzy Smith’s fairybell stems arise from creeping roots. Over time loose thickets of Smith’s fairybell can form. The ovate leaves are alternate and have clasping bases.

Smith’s fairybell flowers are hanging, cylindrical bells that flare only slightly at the tips. The inflorescence is a terminal clusters of 1 to 5 flowers. The six white to greenish tepals (structures that are not definitively petals or sepals) enclose a single pistil and 6 stamens.  The tepals are longer than and enclose both the stamens and pistil. The superior ovary is three celled, the style is pubescent and the stigma is three-lobed.

Smith’s fairybell fruits are light orange berries that turn red with age. Some coastal Native Americans ate Smith’s fairybell fruits, while others considered them poisonous and associated the fruits with snakes and ghosts.

Previously P. smithii was classified as Disporum smithii and this appellation remains common in the literature. The genus name comes from the Greek and means “attached”. I am not certain why. The species name honors James Edward Smith (1759 – 1828) an English botanist and the founder of the Linnean Society.

These Smith’s fairybell specimens were photographed along the Caruthers Cove Trail in the Prairie Creek Redwoods CA State Park (part of the trail passes though the Redwoods National Park).

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One Response to Smith’s Fairybell

  1. I always loved coming across these little jewels when I was in the Sierra. Thanks for the memories. – Jim

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