The Q&A Archives: Oconee Bell

Question: I have a wild flower given to me some time ago. I was told it's name is Oconee Bell. I understand it must live under a laurel. It looks something like an african violet with lighter green leaves, not fuzzy, and has a white bell like flower in spring. It' multiplies with new babies on a shoot, (like a strawberry does). I would like to know more about this plant and how best to care for it. I can't find anything, anywhere on this plant. Perhaps I don't have the proper name. I also understand it was thought to be extinct for over 100 years untill rediscovered around 25-30 years ago.

Answer: The botanical name for Oconee Bell is Shortia uniflora. Its history is an interesting one: the plant was discovered in North Carolina in 1788, where a specimen was taken and sent to an herbarium in Paris. It was then rediscovered in Japan in 1840 and named for Dr. Charles Short (Shortia uniflora). In 1877 it was rediscovered, again, in Japan. It now grows wild in the Oconee National Forest in Georgia and is called 'Oconee Bell'. As a wildflower, and an obvious survivor, it likes to grow in rock gardens and wild gardens, prefers shade, and thrives in a soil with abundant amounts of leaf mold or humus. For more information about the history of this plant, read 'Wildflower Folklore' by Laura C. Martin.

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