Not a native plant (but it sure looked like one)

When Gail of Clay and Limestone reminded me about her upcoming Wildflower Wednesday meme, I got all excited. I’d been saving the shot above for a post with the working title “lesser-known native plants.”

Trouble is, the more I looked, the more I saw it isn’t the plant I’d thought it was (Uvularia grandiflora or merrybells) – though at first it looked alike enough to be its twin.

After much head-scratching and bombarding Google with search terms, I finally learned that our covergirl is Disporum uniflorum (syn. Disporum flavens) or fairy-bell. Native to Asia, not North America. Oh, well. The two are kissing cousins.

That’s the trouble with plant ID. Compare the pictures below. Can you spot the differences? Don’t judge by flower size. The first one is a closer crop.

(Cursor over – or touch, via mobile – each image to get the ID caption. Or click any image to embiggen the slide show.)

It was the different shape of the petal tips that first clued me in. See how one is pointier?

My search tried relationships to Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum) and even lilies (Lilium), both of which turned out to be close. A few Disporum species are now shifted to the Uvularia camp. There is a native Disporum but it’s now called something else entirely (Prosartes). All are classed in the larger Liliaceae or lily family, with the cousins on this page actually closer to the dreaded lily of the valley (Convallaria) from yesterday’s post!

Whatever you call them, both are well-behaved spring woodland plants that like similar moist, shaded, woodsy growing conditions (see MoBot’s Uvularia link above, too). And both are unusual enough to be called “lesser-known.”

6 comments

    1. There are many plant lookalikes. And there are even native and non-native species in the same genera that look almost identical. It’s easy to be confused.

  1. Interesting plant sleuthing, Helen. I grow merry bells but have always called it bellwort. Looks great with Virginia bluebells.

    1. You’re right, Patty, like many plants it has more than one common name, and large-flowered bellwort is another. Merrybells is the first name I knew it by – or maybe I just latched onto its cuteness.

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