Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Oconee Bell

Last week we attended the Upstate Master Naturalist meeting at Devil’s Fork State Park. Kay Wade gave a presentation on “The Oconee Bell and the Fascinating History of the Men who Found It." 

The Oconee Bell:
Kingdom: Plantae
Phylum: Tracheophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ericales
Family: Diapensiaceae
Genus: Shortia

Shortia grows in Southeast Asia (Japan, China, Vietnam)  and Southeast US (NC and SC). Both areas have  temperate climate, similar elevations and abundant rainfall.

Before 1970, Oconee bells grew throughout Jocassee Valley.

Andre Michaux discovered and collected it but didn’t name it or describe it.

In 1839, Asa Gray visited Paris and found a specimen of the plant in Michaux’s herbarium. Gray seized the opportunity to name the plant for Kentucky botanist Charles W. Short. Gray searched the Southern Appalachians but never found the plant.

It was rediscovered by Mordecai Hyams in 1877. Hyams was the manager of Wallace Brothers’ “botanic depot,” a warehouse in Statesville. Hyams had a group of mountain people who collected herbs in the forests, then traded them to local shopkeepers, who then shipped the plants to Statesville in return for wholesale goods such as salt and kerosene from the Wallace Brothers’ other businesses.  

Asa Gray, John Redfield, and Charles Sargent visited the site of Hyam’s Shortia discovery in 1878. Sargent found it growing the Jocassee Gorges area in 1888.

Shortia Galacifolia was planted on Gray’s grave after he died.

Margaret Mills who lived in Walhalla, transcribed Michaux’s journal into English.

Charlie Williams went to Paris in 2004 to find Michaux’s Shortia specimen.

Amy and Chris Blackwell, and Patrick McMillan are photographing herbarium specimens for the world to study.

This was a great presentation and I really enjoyed learning about the Oconee Bell. Hearing the history of how it was found, lost, rediscovered was very interesting! If you get a chance around March each year, go to Devil’s Fork State Park and look for the Oconee Bell.

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