Prosartes is a genus of North American plants that has been considered a section of the Asian genus Disporum. It is now considered by the Flora of North America and the new Flora of China to justify generic status based on cellular, chemical and morphological differences that are not readily visible to the naked eye. This genus is now considered by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group II to be in the Liliaceae family. In older literature, you can also see it sometimes included in the Convallariaceae family. Plants grow from rhizomes with fibrous roots and flowers are in a cluster and nodding, known by the common name of fairybell. The fruits are a berry, either yellow or red. Many of the species have a wide distribution and there is much variation in each species so descriptions from different sources are sometimes contradictory and in some keys the ovary is the distinctive feature and that is often not visible in photographs.
Prosartes hookeri Torr., syn. Disporum hookeri, known as Hooker's fairy bells or drops-of-gold has creamy white bell shaped flowers and is found in shady woods from 100 to 2000 m in western North America and Michigan flowering early spring to mid summer. In the pacific states it occurs more inland and away from the coast. The stems are sparingly branched, with short, stiff, rough hairs. The style is usually hairy, as are the upper surfaces of the leaves, and the hairs on the leaf edges, if there are any, point forward. The stamens are usually exserted and the stigma is not lobed or rarely weakly 3 lobed. The roundish berries are dark yellow to bright red and smooth-skinned with a small point on the top. Photos by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner taken at Washington Park, Portland, Oregon, and on the Stoney Creek Trail in northern California.
Prosartes lanuginosa (Michx.) D. Don, synonym Disporum lanuginosum, and commonly known as yellow mandarin or yellow fairybells, occurs in the Great Smoky Mountains and in many other parts of the Appalachian region from New York to Alabama. It has greenish yellow bell shaped unspotted flowers arranged singly or in pairs at the end of the branches followed by smooth red berries. The leaves are slightly hairy and prominently veined.
Prosartes maculata (Buckley) A. Gray, synonym Disporum maculatum, the nodding or yellow mandarin is distributed in Ontario and from New York south to Georgia and Arkansas. The bell-shaped nodding flowers are cream colored with purple spots and hang singly or in pairs from the ends of usually forked stems. Growing up to 80 cm, it has pale straw colored berries.
Prosartes parvifolia S. Watson was elevated to species status from either a hybrid or variety of Prosartes hookeri in 2010 in an article entitled A resurrection for Siskiyou Bells, Prosartes parvifolia (Liliaceae), a rare Siskiyou Mountains endemic in Madroño 57:2 129-35. It is found in the Siskiyou Mountains of California and southwestern Oregon in montane conifer, mixed-evergreen forest, exposed roadsides at elevations from 600-1525 m and flowers May to Jun. There are one to 4 bell shaped or narrowly bell shaped flowers followed by orange to orange red berries. Stems, leaf margins and pedicels are glandular hairy and the filaments much less than the anthers which surround the style base.
Prosartes trachycarpa S. Watson, syn. Disporum trachycarpum, grows in rich moist soils of forests, opening, and thickets from low to subalpine elevations from British Columbia south to northeastern Oregon, east to eastern North Dakota, and south through Rocky Mountain region to New Mexico and Arizona. Growing from rhizomes to 30-80 cm, it has smooth to short haired stems with few branches. The alternate parallel veined egg-shaped leaves with pointed tips clasp the stem, are smooth on the top surface and slightly hairy underneath. The leaf margins are fringed with short, spreading hairs that point outward. The 1 to 3 creamy white bell shaped flowers flare out near the base and hang at branch tips from unbent stalks. The stamens are equal to or slightly longer than the tepals and the stigma is three lobed. The berries are distinctive: reddish orange to bright red with a velvety-skinned, minutely rough-bumpy surface. They are edible and mildly sweet, but mostly mealy and bland.
Prosartes smithii (Hook.) Utech, Shinwari & Kawano, syn. Disporum smithii, syn. Prosartes menziesii, syn Uvularia smithii is found in moist shady forests near the coast from central California north to British Columbia. Growing from 20 to 90 cm, it has creamy white flowers that are larger than some of the other species, 1.5 to 2.5 cm long, that hang under the leaves and therefore are not easy to see followed by the pear shaped berries that eventually turns from green to large orange red. Stems and rounded to heart shaped leaves are usually hairless and stamens and style are enclosed within the perianth. Flowering occurs from March to June, fruiting from July to September. Photos 1 to 3 by Bob Rutemoeller including the underside showing the early stages of the berries. Photos 4-5 of the berries were taken by Mary Sue Ittner. These photos were taken on the Mendocino Sonoma Coast.
The photos below were taken by Mary Sue Ittner near Netarts, Oregon, May 2016.