The fairest bloom the mountain knows
Is not an iris or a wild rose
But the little flower of which I'll tell
Known as the brave acony bell
Just a simple flower so small and plain
With a pearly hue and a little known name
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
For they know that spring is coming soon
Well it makes its home mid the rocks and the rills
Where the snows lie deep on the windy hills
And it tells the world "Why should I wait
This ice and snow is gonna melt away"
And so I'll sing that yellow bird's song
For the troubled times will soon be gone
~Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
Oconee Bell, Shortia Galacifolia, is one of the rarest wildflowers in the United States, found in only six counties in the southern Appalachians of North and South Carolina and Georgia, blooming in early spring along shady stream banks.
A partial specimen was first collected in 1788 by a French botanist, Andre Michaux, found somewhere "in the high mountains of the Carolinas". Fifty years later, an American botanist, Asa Gray, saw the specimen in Michaux's collection in Paris and realized the unnamed plant was new to science. He led expeditions to find it in the wild, and the rediscovery of the lost wildflower became an obsession for many botanists of the day. Nearly a century after it was first noted, a 17 year old boy named George Hyams found a patch growing along the Catawba River near Marion, North Carolina. By following descriptions in his journals, botanists and historians then retraced Michaux's route to the original source of his specimen~ along the Keowee River, near the old Cherokee town of Jocassee in Oconee County, South Carolina.
Long before botanists found and classified Oconee Bells, the Cherokee called it "Shee-Show", meaning "two-colored plant of the gods". It's believed that the tribe once made annual pilgrimages to the Jocassee Gorges to collect the flower, thought to be a rain talisman because it grew at the water's edge.
Faith, determination and the strength to bloom through hard conditions~ the snow will melt and spring will be here soon. Only a few more weeks...okay, maybe two months, but it WILL come! :) Warm end-of-winter wishes to you!
(photos: Georgia Botanical Society , appalachianhistory.net , Learn NC)