The Q&A Archives: Chamaelirium luteum/Fairy Wand

Question: I have growing in my yard a native North Carolina perennial which is suppositively an endangered herb which may be called unicorn plant, fairy wand or Devil's Bit. Fairy wand would be better suited since the bloom is so pretty. It goes by the scientific name Chamaelirium or Aletris. This plant has a beautiful one foot tall white arching plume in late spring which lasts over two weeks. It thrives in deciduous shade. I was lucky to discover and gather a few seeds last week. I found it quite odd that the seed stalk is about twice as tall as the bloom stalk. Would the plants that bear the seeds be a male of female plant? Why is this plant not used as an ornamental in shady gardens?

Answer: I believe the plant you are referring to is Chamaelirium luteum, which is commonly called fairy wand, devil's bit or FALSE unicorn root, to distinguish it from true unicorn root, which is Aletris farinosa. You are right that male and female flowers occur on different plants. Female plants are usually leafier. If the plant is endangered as you state, there may not be a supply of them for the nursery trade; they may be difficult/expensive to grow to maturity in nursery conditions, or maybe it just hasn't been "discovered" as an appropriate landscape plant yet.

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