Chinese Fairy Bells: A Real Eye Catcher For Your Garden
Disporum cantoniense ‘Night Heron’ or more commonly called, Chinese fairy bells is a magnificent shrub native to the forests and thickets in China. This species of fairy bells is a rhizomatous perennial that typically grows to 4 to 6 feet tall on bamboo-like stems clad with dark, dusky purple, lance-shaped leaves (they reach a length of 5 inches) that mature to greenish purple by summer.
Tan bracts at the stem nodes provide interesting contrast to the darker stems. Plants are deciduous in Hardiness Zones 5 to 6, but they are semi-evergreen to evergreen in Hardiness Zones 7 to 10. Small, bell-shaped, greenish-white flowers bloom in the leaf axils in drooping racemes in the May to June time frame. Flowers are followed by showy, purple-black berries that ripen in late summer. Spring foliage color of Chinese fairy bells brings to mind the dark plumage colors of the black-crowned night heron.
Chinese fairy bells is sleek, sophisticated, an evergreen-perennial that will add real character and contrast to your landscape. In spring dark black-purple stems rise like asparagus from the soil. Each lustrous stem develops gracefully arching side shoots, which produces an exotic, bamboo-like appearance. In April clusters of pale, chartreuse-yellow flowers nestle among the chocolate-purple leaves on each branch tip. By late May the foliage matures to a shiny, purple tinted deep green. Chinese fairy bells remain wonderfully evergreen, until the new growth starts the following spring. This intriguing selection was made first noted by Dan Hinkley, from seed collected from a trip to Sichuan, China in 1996.
How To Make Your Chinese Fairy Bells Thrive
Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Chinese fairy bells grow best in bright full sun to light or open shade. Locations with hot afternoon sun should be avoided. If ‘Night Heron’ is grown in too much shade, the purple coloring of new growth will fade quickly and the stems will not stand upright. You will be most successful with this plant if you provide rich well-drained soil in an area that receives regular summer watering. Although the stems and leaves are evergreen, they gradually decline over the winter months. If you cut them to the ground in late February you will highlight the gorgeous purple new growth.
Chinese fairy bells are evergreen in mild winter climates like the Pacific Northwest. When you remove old stems in the fall you need to feed with a general purpose fertilizer to support the new growth in spring.
General Chinese Fairy Bells Information
Pests and Diseases
No serious insect or disease problems. You should be on guard for fungal leaf spots and slugs.
Use Chinese fairy bells to evoke the feel of bamboo or add a tropical look to a dappled shade garden. Locate where its exceptional seasonal qualities can be witnessed up close. Robust, uniquely colored new shoots emerge in spring forming a statuesque column that is stunning in an entry, courtyard, or Zen retreat. You can also use this plant to create a vertical element in a perennial border. ‘Night Heron’ looks good with Cornus kousa as their flowers appear at the same time and are the same yellow-green shade.
- Family: Colchicaceae
- Common Name: Chinese fairy bells
- Plant Type: Shrub
- Deciduous/Evergreen: Perennial, semi-evergreen, or evergreen depending on the harshness of winter
- Plant Height: 6 feet at maturity
- Plant Width: 6 feet at maturity
- Hardiness Zones: Zones 5 to 10
- Bloom Color: Yellow
- Bloom Time: June to July
- Light Exposure: Full sun to light or open shade
- Water Requirements: Regular watering, weekly, or more often in extreme heat
- Growth Rate: Moderate
- Maintenance: Low
- Great Color Contrasts: Purple, variegated, silver
- Great Color Partners: Black, dark green
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