Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.
The Shade Border in May is filled with masses of brightly colored blooms, all set against the green backdrop of fresh spring foliage.
Look more closely, though, and you might spot some plants with a much darker appearance. One of them is this elegant selection of the Canton fairy bells (Disporum cantoniense ‘Night Heron’). Slender, purple-brown stems grow to four or five feet high and the tips, weighed down by clusters of small, creamy-green flowers, arch gracefully over the surrounding plantings.
It is standing tall in the right foreground of this next shot, taken looking east towards Wave Hill House along the Shade Border walk.
The foliage coloration is at its most intense in spring; by late summer it will have turned to an olive-green. The flowers, which are just now beginning to open, are at their showiest in late May to early June, and are followed by attractive black berries.
As the name suggests, Disporum cantoniense is native to southern China and to neighboring parts of Southeast Asia.