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Oconee Bells, Acony Bell, Southern Oconee-bells, Northern Oconee-bells, Shortia - Shortia galacifolia


Family: Diapensiaceae - Diapensia family Genus Common Name: Shortia Native Status: NativeDicot Perennial Herb
Shortia galacifolia - Oconee Bells, Acony Bell, Southern Oconee-bells, Northern Oconee-bells, Shortia. There are five or six species in the Shortia genus, but just this one in North America, according to Flora of North America. The other species are native to Asia, and apparently have not naturalized in North America. Shortia galacifolia is a rare plant, protected as Endangered in both Georgia and North Carolina, and listed as a federal species of concern. There are two varieties - var. brevistyla (which, as implied by the variety name, has shorter styles, as well as shorter corolla lobes) is found only in McDowell County, NC (Northern Oconee-bells.) Var. galacifolia (Southern Oconee-bells) is found in 1 county in Georgia, 2 or 3 counties in South Carolina, and a few counties in North Carolina. There are reports of naturalized populations in Tennessee and Virginia. There is also a very recent discovery of the plant in DeKalb County, Alabama, which has not yet (as of late 2012) been determined as native or naturalized. It grows along streambanks and other moist slopes in areas with high rainfall, usually under the shade of Rhododendron.

The story of the discovery and rediscovery of this rare plant is interesting - its foliage was initially found by botanist Andre Michaux in 1788, and those specimens were discovered in Michaux's native France by American botanist Asa Gray in 1839. Gray, working on The Flora of North America, determined to find this plant, which he named after American botanist Charles Short. Due to a different interpretation of Michaux's labelling the specimen as from the "high mountains of Carolina" in 1843 Gray spent several months searching in areas above 5,000' elevation, well above where it is found. Several other botanists joined the search in subsequent years. Finally, in 1877, 17 year old George Hyams found the plant, which he didn't recognize, along the Catawba River in North Carolina. His father was an amateur botanist, and sent a specimen to a friend, who in turn informed Asa Gray of the discovery. In 1879 an expedition led by Gray to personally see the plant. In 1888 botanist Charles Sargent found the plant in the area where Michaux first found it, in an area that was inundated in 1973 by the waters of Lake Jocassee, which was built by Duke Power.

Found in:
AL, GA, NC, SC, TN, VA

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Shortia galacifolia

Distribution of Shortia galacifolia in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 24 Nov 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Devil's Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2014-March-21Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The flower of Oconee Bells has 5 petals which are white to rose-purple (color description from Flora of North America), what many describe as pink. I have only seen white blossoms. The flower usually nods on the scape. The margins of the petals may be toothed, laciniate, or fringed.
Shortia galacifolia

Site: Devil's Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2014-March-21Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The five stamens are longitudinally dehiscent; the darker cream color on those in the photo shows the line of dehiscence. The single stigma is slightly 3-lobed. The style length is a primary difference between the two varieties, as outlined above. Based on this photo, it appears that the ovary is hairy.
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Shortia galacifolia

Site: Devil's Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2014-March-21Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The flower is bell-shaped, and flares more or less at the point where the petals fuse. They fuse at less than one half their length. The blossom usually nods notably. The sepals add to the beauty of the blossom.
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Shortia galacifolia

Site: Devil's Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2013-March-21Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Oconee Bells can form a dense groundcover in moist, shady forests. This photo shows a typical habitat, on a streambank under the shade of Rhododendron in a forest area populated largely by hemlock, white pine, and tulip poplar.
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Shortia galacifolia

Site: Devil's Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2013-March-21Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The leaves, all basal, are on long petioles, from 2 to nearly 5 inches long. The floral scape is a similar length, but more erect so that the flowers are usually held above the leaves. There may be several floral scapes, each holding a single flower, on a plant. In this photo of the base of the plant, the scapes are the reddish color; petioles are green.
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Shortia galacifolia

Site: Devil's Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2014-March-21Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The leaves are more or less round, with coarsely serrate margins. The tip is usually flattened. The surface of the leaves are glabrous. They are similar to those of Galax (Galax urceolata), but the pinnate veins are much more prominent.
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Shortia galacifolia

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer