Before an absolutely wicked thunderstorm chased us out of the Cross Conservation Area last Thursday afternoon, my hubby and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the aspen forest. The wildflowers have all pretty much finished blooming, and the warm, rich scent of decaying foliage was in the humid, still air. Brown and yellow leaves crunched underfoot and any Saskatoon or currant berries left on the shrubs were shriveled and inedible. (I did manage to find some still-plump chokecherries, though). I guess it all means autumn is really and truly here. I adore this season, but it seems as if I merely blinked, and summer had completed its cycle. It saddens me….

Another sure sign of fall in Alberta is the ripening of the berries of the wildflower fairybells:

Fairybells FP

A member of the lily family, rough-fruited fairybells (also called rough-fruited mandarin – Prosartes trachycarpa, formerly Disporum trachycarpum) are a common sight in the damp understorey of the forest.  While their green-white flowers are not quite showy enough to make much of a statement at the height of the summer, you cannot miss the nearly neon red berries that appear at this time of year.  Until I started doing some reading, I didn’t realize the berries were edible, although I’m sure their velvety coating and large, often-numerous seeds (there may be up to 17 in a fruit) must give them a bit of a strange consistency on the tongue.  I haven’t tried one myself, but historically, they were eaten out of hand by the Blackfoot people of the First Nations.  The berries apparently taste like apricots, which REALLY makes me wonder why the Blackfoot called them “dog feet” plants.  I think I much prefer the name “fairybells” – there’s a suggestion of magic and whimsy there that “dog feet” just doesn’t convey….  😉

How are you marking the change of season in your part of the world?

For more information about fairybells, consult Wildflowers of Calgary and Southern Alberta, by France Royer and Richard Dickinson.


  1. Those berries look a little surreal… like fabric buttons! Your summer did seem really short… hope your autumn is nice and long and mild to make up for it. 😉 I shall be checking on the elderberries today, and if ripe enough I want to try making syrup for winter. (If it turns out I’ll post it). And I still haven’t tried the rosehip syrup you posted last year, so maybe I’ll have time this year…

    • Fabric buttons…I like that! What an apt description! 🙂 They really do look a little too bright to be real, and because they grow in the shade they seem to glow even more. You sure can’t miss them when you walk by!

      I hope you are able to get enough elderberries for syrup (yum!)…I have a hard time getting any elderberries around here. They grow well here, but they’re not easy to find. I managed to get out on a bit of a foraging trip on the weekend and found some wonderful fat rosehips (they’re really nice this year, I guess because of all of our rain) and some chokecherries, so I will concoct some recipes shortly!

  2. I never knew they were called fairybells. We come across them all the time when out walking.

    Fall is around the corner. I am marking the change of season by manically eco-printing cloth with my rose and peony leaves before the first frost turns them to mush.

    • You can only print them while the leaves are fresh, right? – you can’t dry them and use them as they won’t work as well. I was looking at your technique in your recent blog post and it reminded me of shibori; it’s the same sort of idea, isn’t it? Your resulting patterns on the fabric are so beautiful!

      • I am thinking fresh is the only way it will work well. I am even noticing differences with the peony leaves now compared to a month ago. The rose leaves are doing well still. I suspect the rose leaves would shatter if dried and then used, but I could try it. I know people use dried eucalyptus, but it is just an all over amazing dye plant. I am hoping my Japanese maple on Pender will still be in good shape at Thanksgiving and I will bring back a few leaves. Shibori is all the tying and dying and folding; I play around with it a bit in the winter.

  3. I vote for the name fairy bells! If I see some I am definitely going to give them a taste as I love apricots! The leaves are already falling here and I am noticing the change in color in all things green. Great post!

    • It is curious…I’ve done a bit of searching and so far haven’t been able to find out the reason for that name. If I find anything, I will update the post. An interesting mystery! 🙂

      I am pleased to have found your blog! Lots of wonderful information there!

      • I just saw my typo…sigh…I am a novice..started gardening for the wildlife 4 years ago and I am enjoying learning about it. I should have started back when my knees and back worked better.. LOL.. I am enjoying your blog as well..I do love plant lore….Michelle

  4. I am learning so much through your blog about so many native and domestic plants. I had no idea! Thanks! ~Thea

  5. Love the name fairybells. They are so pretty. I’ve never seen these, but you make me wish I could taste them! I can tell autumn is coming because of the changing of the sun patterns, but otherwise, it is still hot and dry. I’m hoping for a bit of an autumn cooling and some fall rains soon!

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