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Fairy bells (Disporum trachycarpum)

Species new to Minnesota: Rough-fruited fairy bells

by Lynden Gerdes, MBS Botanist/Ecologist

Rough fruited fairy bells

Rough fruited fairy bell location map
Location of Rough fruited fairy bells in Minnesota (Disporum trachycarpum)

This species was first documented in Minnesota from northern Cook County in 1999 (Gerdes 2001). Rough-fruited fairy bells typically occurs in the northwestern and western regions of the U.S. and Canada. According to Judziewicz et al (1997), the nearest populations of this species to Minnesota are Isle Royale, Michigan; James Bay, Ontario; and Pembina County, North Dakota. Apparently, the three historic locations in Ontario have not been relocated in the past 25 years. (Oldham 2000).

In Minnesota, the lone population occurs on a ridge top in a mixed hardwood-conifer forest of jack pine (Pinus banksiana), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and occasional white spruce (Picea glauca), balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and paper birch (Betula papyrifera). The site has a rather open forest canopy, shallow soils over bedrock, and numerous dead and down aspen and jack pine. The understory cover of shrubs and saplings range from sparse to moderately dense and include: young balsam fir, bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis), green alder (Alnus viridis), juneberry (Amelanchier sp.), and mountain maple (Acer spicatum). Associated forbs include: (MN-Threatened) large-leaved sandwort (Moerhingia macrophylla), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), and twinflower (Linnaea borealis).

Across its range, rough-fruited fairy bells occurs on wooded slopes, often near streams (Hitchcock & Cronquist 1973); and dry-mesic to xeric, basaltic ridge top white spruce/glade ecotones (Judziewicz et al 1997). A second species of fairy bells, Disporum hookeri, also occurs in Michigan as a western disjunct (Voss 1972).

Rough fruited fairy bellsRough-fruited fairy bells should be searched for in mid-May to late August. This species flowers around mid-May. The fruits, strikingly reddish-orange in color, have been observed remaining on the plants in mid-August. True to it's common name, under magnification the surface of the fruit is distinctly rough and wart-like. Sterile plants can be difficult to discern from rose twisted-stalk (Streptopus roseus) and other members of the lily family (Liliaceae).

Note: This plant was found during a floristic investigation of the Rove Slate Bedrock Complex Landtype Association in northern Cook County, MN. This graduate study received support from Michigan Technological University, the Superior National Forest, and the Minnesota Biological Survey.

More information

Minnesota Biological Survey


Gerdes, L.B. 2001. A Contribution to the Flora of the Rove Slate Bedrock Complex Landtype Association, Northern Cook County, MN, USA. Michigan Technological University. Masters Report in preparation.

Hitchcock, C.L. & A. Cronquist. 1973. Flora of the Pacific Northwest: An Illustrated Manual. University of Washington Press, Seattle Washington. 730 pp.

Judziewicz, E.J., F.H. Utech & W. Mackinnon. 1997. Prosartes (Disporum) trachycarpa (Liliaceae) in Isle Royale National Park: New to Michigan and the Eastern United States. The Michigan Botanist. Vol. 36. No. 2 & 3. 63-72.

Oldham, M.J. 2000. Personal correspondence with L.B. Gerdes on 04Jan00. Natural Heritage Information Centre. Ontario, Canada.

Voss, E.G. 1972. Michigan Flora. Part I. Gymnosperms and Monocots. Cranbrook Institute of Science. Bulletin 55 and the University of Michigan Herbarium. 488 pp.