Rough-fruited Fairybells

Prosartes trachycarpa

Species distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Branched stems with alternate leaves
  • Parallel-veined leaves clasp the stem and have hairs that spread on margins
  • White flowers hang in pairs at branch tips from unbent stalks
  • Orange to red berries with a rough, velvety-skinned surface
  • Grows in rich, moist soils

Family Characteristics: 

  • Often perennial herbs with bulbs, corms, or swollen rhizomes
  • Simple leaves with parallel veins or net veins
  • Regular flowers with 3 sepals and 3 petals, that are separate and identical in size and color, and 6 (or 3) stamens
  • Seed capsules, or berries, with 3 chambers form inside the flower
  • Members of this family include tulips (Tulipa spp.)

Growth habitat: 

Perennial with erect stems, 30–80 cm tall, from rhizomes.

Leaves and stems: 

Stems with few branches that are smooth or covered in short hairs.  Alternate leaves, 3–12 cm long, clasp the stem, are egg-shaped with pointed tips, and are rounded to heart-shaped bases.  Leaves have parallel veins, are slightly hairy underneath, and smooth on the top surface.  Leaf edges are wavy and fringed with short, spreading hairs that point outward (not towards the tips).  Lacks basal leaves.

Flowers: 

Pairs (sometimes 1–3) of nodding, creamy white flowers, 6–15 mm long, hang from slender, but stout and relatively straight stalks at branch tips.  Flowers are often obscured under leaves.  Narrowly bell-shaped flowers with 6 identical, unfused sepals and petals (called tepals in the Lily family (Liliaceae)) that flare out from near the base.  Flowers have 6 stamens (pollen organs) that are equal to or slightly longer in size than the tepals, and a stigma (tip of a female organ) with 3 shallow lobes.

Roots: 

Thick, spreading rhizomes. 

Seeds: 

Yellowish-orange to bright red berries, 6–12 mm in diameter, with a velvety-skinned, minutely rough-bumpy surface.  Berries are irregularly rounded and faintly 3-lobed, holding 6–12 seeds.

Habitat preferences: 

Rich, moist soils of forests, openings, thickets, and aspen groves from low to subalpine elevations.

Interesting facts: 

This plant was formerly known as Disporum trachycarpum.  Rodents and grouse (ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) and spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis)) eat the berries.  For humans, the berries are edible and mildly sweet, but mostly mealy and bland.  Some tribes ate the berries raw, but other tribes considered the fruit more suitable for grizzly bears (Ursus arctos).  

A poultice of the leaves can serve as a bandage for bleeding wounds, and an infusion can be used as a wash for wounds.  To clear foreign objects from the eyes, a seed of rough-fruited fairybells was inserted until the eye watered sufficiently to expel the seed with the foreign object attached.  The Blackfoot people cured snow-blindness by placing fairybell seeds under the eyelids and keeping them in overnight.

Biological Classification: