Also known as Smith’s fairy bells, fairy lanterns (Prosartes smithii) are native to the deep moist wooded areas of western North America. Leathery oval leaves ending in a point, grow from upright stems with wide spreading branches.
I have noticed these plants for many years growing along the edge of a trail that loops around a wooded area behind my house. But it was not until this last year that I discovered one of the most remarkable features of this species.
In the middle of May, hidden from view, flowers grow. The tubular blossoms are cream white with a bit of light green fading from the stem end. These flowers consisting of six long petals, hang down from the underside of the stem in clusters. In my area, the flowers reach a length of about an inch, but others report blossoms of half this size. Unless you are low to the ground, you may never see the fairy lantern flowers. They are generally obscured by leaves which grow directly above them.
In late summer, long after the flowers have disappeared, shiny yellow to bright orange berries present themselves. Although the berries grow from the same location as the flowers, they are not nearly as shy and unassuming. At times these bright berries rise up to a position above the leaves for all to see.