It warms my heart to think that other people notice, appreciate, and love the little plants that grow around us and even more when I realize that the sort of noticing I mean has been going on for a long time. Leave it to Henry David Thoreau to describe the first of our little uvularias featured in this blog. In May of 1852, this is what he wrote in this journal:
“The sessile-leaved bellwort, with three or four delicate pale-green leaves with reflexed edges, on a tender-looking stalk, the single modest-colored flower gracefully drooping, neat, with a fugacious, richly spiced fragrance, facing the ground, the dry leaves, as if unworthy to face the heavens. It is a beautiful sight, a pleasing discovery, the first of the season, — growing in a little straggling company, in damp woods or swamps. When you turn up the drooping flower, its petals make a perfect geometrical figure, a six-pointed star”
And here, in Nantahala, we have its close cousin, Uvularia puberula or pudica which looks so much like it is almost impossible to tell apart in early spring. Or is it? For several years I was totally confused about just what Uvularias grew here. Since we were in the mountains, I felt certain that we would have Mountain Bellwort (Uvularia puberula) but the plants looked exactly the same to me. Frustrated, I called Dr. Wilbur Duncan, a botany professor at my old Alma Mater, The University of Georgia, , and the author of Wildflowers of the Eastern United States. He was most gracious. I had not been his student at the University, but felt right at home talking to him. I outlined my problem. Just HOW do you tell them apart, Professor Duncan? The answer was simple yet I have never seen this explanation anywhere else. What he told me is illustrated in the photograph below. He said, and I quote “The sessilifolia only has one flower per stalk, but the puberula will have two. If you see two flowers on a stalk, it is a puberula.”
Well, it was too late in the year to search for multiple blooms, but that summer I found a patch of Bellworts which were definitely either sessilifolias or puberulas and one of them had two seed capsules, so I marked the plant with a stake and began trying to see what other identifying marks I could find.
When you read a description of these plants in a book or in an Internet site, their height is given as being between 6-18 inches tall. But, what they are not telling you is that the plant does not grow into a plant and THEN flower. What it does, is that the plant pops us, flowers, and then continues growing and changing.
This is a photograph of the Wild-Oats (sessilifolia) a month after they flower
The sun is shinning right on the plants but even in the reflected light it is easy to see that the pale green color of the flowering plant has now been deepened to a rich green and the seed capsule has developed where the flower once used to be.
Wild-Oats, those tiny 6″ cute little plants also called Straw-Lilies and Cornflower have sessilifolia as their botanical epithet because their leaf attachment is sessile. In the next photograph we notice that the leaves do not have a stem at all and are attached to the stalk directly.
In the first couple of months in the season, the Uvularia sessilifolia and the Uvularia puberula look pretty much alike in passing – the same sessile leaves, the same size, their leaves getting greener and their seed capsules appearing where the flower used to be.
But, just as the two flower arrangement on the Mountain Bellwort is the tip-off for identification, there IS a way of telling these plants apart by close observation and, the hint is in the name! puberula denotes that the plant has the fuzziness of puberty! Mountain Bellwort has a fuzzy stalk whereas the little Wild-Oat plants don’t.
In this close up photograph of the stalk and leaf of the Mountain Bellwort we notice the little fuzzy “hair” of the plant.
But one need not go to all that trouble of making sure that the plant is fuzzy to conclude that it is a Mountain Bellwort. This photograph captures the fact that the leaves are rounder, and deeper green. They are also thicker, I think, than the Wild-Oats leaves and more deeply ridged.
In researching for on-line information on the Uvularias, I found a very excellent YouTube video with a detailed description of Mountain Bellwort which you can watch if you click here. It is a really excellent presentation of how to identify a Mountain Bellwort plant.
The question for this native plant gardener is, will these plants do well transplanted into a flower bed? The answer is, yes, but with a caveat. As usual, ask nicely to whomever owns the plants if you can dig some up and then make sure that their new home is similar to their old one in every way. Notice where the plants are positioned, what the ground is like, and put them where they will feel at home and they will reward you by coming back year after year.
But, there is another way – plant seeds. This is easier than digging up plants. If you do come across Uvularia plants and can harvest the seed, you need to be patient.
I mentioned in my initial Uvularia blog that, although the plants emerge along with other Spring ephemerals, they do not disappear by mid-summer but evolve during the season until late fall. The above sessilifolia plant was photographed in late August. The leaves are beginning to fade and seed capsule develops brown spots (sort of like we do, if you think about it!). But, the seeds within are not ready to harvest yet. Be patient, but watchful, because the plants begin to pop open their seed capsules and they do this a bit at a time. By October, here in Nantahala, the seeds are ready to harvest.