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Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia)

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    January 22, 2012 10:53 AM PST

    is a rare plant of the Southern Appalachians of the order Ericales in the family Diapensiaceae.  It is a relict herb which long bewitched Asa Gray, the eminent American botanist, a saga detailed in the paper "Asa Gray and His Quest for Shortia galacofolia" [Arnoldia Vol. 2, 13-26. 1942].  Originally discovered in 1788 by Andre Michaux, Gray had seen a fragment of the plant in the Paris herbarium in 1938, and had long sought it in the wild in the mountains of North Carolina.  It was not rediscovered until 1877.  It is an evergreen herbaceous perennial with round, glossy dark green leaves.  It's native habitat is streambanks and slopes of gorges in high rainfall areas, usually in deep shade.  The leaves, which are all basal, are similar to those of Galax urceolata but smaller, with pale veins and wavy margins, and without basal lobes.  The specific epithet galacifolia means "with Galax-like leaves".  Oconee Bells blooms in early Spring.  The solitary white to pinkish bell-shaped flowers are borne on leafless stalks.  It's name is taken from Oconee County, South Carolina where it was discovered.