Uvularia grandiflora & Uvularia perfoliata – alike, but different

If you are a botanist or a native plant enthusiast you probably, field guide in pocket, happily bend down and examine any interesting new plant you might see while on a search-and-find expedition But, let’s face it, most of us simply notice flowering plants in passing and when we do try to examine them, we don’t really know what to look for.

In Nantahala we have the cute little Wild Oats that pop up in April and then, the larger plants looking very much like them, only different.

Those larger plants with nodding yellow flowers are Large-Flowered Bellwort and Perfoliate Bellwort and although side by side comparison makes which one is which obvious, encountered singly here and there on hikes it isn’t so easy to tell them apart. Or, at least, that was my experience, so I started really noticing them.

When the plants first come up, the Large-flowered Bellwort is, for lack of a better description, wobbly!

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Not only is the flower droppy, but the leaves are also.  By contrast, the Perfoliate Bellwort is stiffer.

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Both plants have alternate placed leaves, and although one is designated as “perfoliate” which means that they surround the stem, BOTH of them have perfoliate leaves! (so how is a gal to know??).

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This photograph of  Perfoliate Bellwort  leaves which seem to be pierced by the stem is a good example of what is meant of a perfoliate leaf.  (noticing the seed that is beginning to form while the flower’s tepals are still there)

So go past the fact that both plants have alternate perfoliate leaves.  There are differences.  The grandiflora is larger with a height of 15-30 inches while the perfoliata is shorter, with a height of 8-20 inches, but you see that their sizes overlap, so many of them are the same size making it hard to decide which species they are by their height alone.

The other difference is that the perfoliata is a little later in coming.  First the grandifloras emerge, and then the perfoliata’s follow – so if you encounter plants which have already have lost their flowers with the seed pod emerging and then run into some which are still in bloom, look a little closer.

The flowers in both plants are very similar, but there is a “tell” which is easier to discern in a more mature flower.

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The flower of the Perfoliate Bellwort will have dark yellow or golden granules in its inner surface but the flower of the Large-Flowered Bellwort will not.

If you are lucky enough to have Uvularias on your property and want to transplant them into the garden, could you? should you? The answer is, “go right ahead!”

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This is a photograph of a Perfoliate Bellwort which I was about to transplant and has done well in the garden, but it has not bushed out or colonized, really.  I transplanted five plants and they have returned every year but have not, as Kenneth used to say about invasives, “taken over”.  HOWEVER, be careful what you wish for with the Large-Flowered Bellwort and  plan ahead to thin out whatever you plant.  They don’t exactly “take over” but they do reproduce and form lovely expansive plants.

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As seen from this photograph, the reason for the grandifloras more agressive colonization is obvious as their robust root system makes the perfoliata’s look puny.  These plants were dug up in August and transplanted into two different beds where they have thrived for over a decade.

By May, the lovely drooping flowers begin to become interesting seed capsules.


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Here, side by side, are three-angled seed capsules.  Again there are subtle differences.  The are, “alike, but different”.   The Perfoliate Bellwort seed capsule is more angular and sharp but the Large-Flowered Bellwort seed pod is rounder.  The other difference is that they mature at different times, with the Large-Flowered Bellwort seed ready much sooner than the Perfoliate Bellwort seed.

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These Large-Flowered Bellwort seeds were harvested August 8th, last year.

When I first started researching our native plants all that was available was field-guides and other books and it was difficult to get information that had more than botanical descriptions and one photograph with a flower in bloom (if you were lucky!) but now, knowing the name of a certain plant it is wonderful to do an Internet  search and get a lot of different information which is interesting and helpful.  I found a very good entry for Uvularia grandiflora from the Missouri Botanical Garden site which gives it a five star rating as a garden plant.  Do click on the link!  And, if you are inspired to add a “Merry” touch to your shade garden but don’t happen to be as lucky as we are here in Nantahala with Uvularias growing in our back yard, click on this this link here  to do some on-line shopping at Prairie Moon Nursery for seeds or roots.












2 thoughts on “Uvularia grandiflora & Uvularia perfoliata – alike, but different

  1. Martha:
    I so love reading about what grows in your woods in Nantahala. Makes me wish I lived there. Soon you need to start a blog on Central Florida’s natives!

  2. Love your pots. So interesting. Makes me think of Irma. I was just telling Christopher about riding up to GA to visit family in LaGrange, Eufala, and of course Manchester. Tis would stop the car on a dime to taking cutting along the road. Once she came to NY to visit me. I took to her to Brooklyn botanical garden, Planting fields arboretum. She kept taking cutting. I was sure we’d be arrested and dragged off to jail with my three little ones. But she made friends with the botonists and gardeners, who gave her more stuff. She was quite something.
    Chris and I are concentrating on the genealogy. I just completed a DAR supplemental on Dads side, and am still stuck with Josiah Askew, might try Capt. Richard Bracken.

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