The flowers of the Uvularia genus are rather reminiscent of the uvula, that bit of tissue that dangles from the soft palate in the back of our mouths. The word uvula, in turn, is the diminutive of the Latin word for grape, uva, chosen, perhaps, because it hangs there like a little grape . The genus includes only five species, all of which are found in North America and, (drum rolls, please!!) in Nantahala we happen to have four out of those five growing about us. And, folks, four out of five ain’t bad.
For those of you who go hiking with a field-guide and come across Uvularias and would like to look them up, you might search for them in the Lily section if your book was published before 2009! And here goes one of my “parentheticals”.
Recently I wrote a blog on Linnaeus, who is considered the father of taxonomy because he came up with a consistent system of grouping plants. Taxonomy has evolved into a field of science which identifies, names, describes, and classifies. Of course, life in general and taxonomy in particular has come a long way since Linnaeus’ time when all that was available was observation of plants. Now their molecular structure can be analyzed, and that has certainly bumped some plants from one group to another. According to The APG III system (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III system) of flowering plant classification (the third version of a modern, system of plant taxonomy) The Uvularia genus now belongs to the Colchicum family rather than the Lily family, although they are kissing cousins.
Their common name is Bellwort, or Merrybells. We are familiar with “wort” being used for naming plants in combination – “Lousewort” comes to mind as does “St. John’s wort”. The word is from Middle English and means, quite simply, “plant” and thus we have “Bell plants” The flowers do, indeed, look like little bells that hang there “merrily”! .
Bellwort plants emerge in April almost in unison with its flowers, like most spring ephemerals, but instead of fading away, they stay on, transforming themselves a bit as they progress through the season and linger until fall
There are so many flowering plants in spring that it is easy to take them for granted and enjoy them without really taking the time to tell species apart. One is vaguely aware of flowers that “look alike” but unless one makes a special effort to keep track of the here-today-and-gone-tomorrow flowers their individual differences are easy to miss. Such was the case with me when it came to the Uvularias.
What we have here, in Nantahala, is
1-Large-Flowered Bellwort, (Uvularia grandiflora),
2-Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata),
3-Wild Oats or Sessileleaf Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia)
4-Moutain Bellwort (Uvularia puberula or pudica)
But, it took me, literally, years to figure out just what was what! Or, rather, to realize that we had all four species instead of two. That is because Large-Flowered Bellwort and Perfoliate Bellwort do look a lot alike and Wild Oats and Mountain Bellwort are very similar. Over time I have begun to notice things about these plants that are not necessarily found in books and internet sites which help tell them apart and for that I will direct you to the next two blogs as we compare and contrast the Uvularias and get and get a little deeper into their stories.