Chestnut Herbal School

Oconee Bells

Shortia galacifolia

Oconee bells (Shortia galacifolia, Diapensiaceae) in flower at the UNCA botanical gardens, March 12th 2010. This extremely rare, legendary flower heralds in the early spring in the southern Appalachians. Oconee bells is in the fairy wand family, along with Galax diphylla, which really lives up to its family namesake with its white raceme, perfectly sized for a midsummer fairy procession. Oconee bells was first collected, with an obscurely- noted location, by Andre Michaux, a French botanist, in 1788 and subsequently became the holy grail of wildflowers for many early American botanist, including Asa Gray. Its location remained a mystery for botanists for almost one hundred years until it was “rediscovered” by a seventeen-year-old boy in 1877, near the Catawba River.   The Native people and European settlers, who lived near this rare wildflower, could neither see nor utilize it until it received a scientific name and proper recognition; it then became real.

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