Friday, April 10, 2020

Get to Know a Native Plant: Bell Wort or Merry Bells, Uvularia grandiflora


I am guilty of taking this easy-going native plant for granted. It comes up reliably every spring and quietly goes about putting on a display of nodding yellow flowers. I sometimes give its flowerbed some supplemental water, but other than that, I don't do much for it. That's one of the beauties of growing a plant that's native–it's perfectly at home in my garden. 

Bell Wort or Merry Bells, Uvularia grandiflora is native to the woodlands of Eastern and Central North America. It's a long-lived, clump-forming, herbaceous perennial. Underground is a rhizome with fleshy, fibrous roots.




The upright foliage is perfoliate– in other words, the lance-shaped leaves encircle the plant's stem. The pendulous yellow flowers have six partially twisted petals that flare outward at the end.

Unlike woodland ephemerals, which go dormant in summer, the foliage of Merry Bells remains into the early fall. I have read that slugs can be a problem, but I haven't noticed much slug damage on my plant. 

Here's another reason to grow this plant: it's one of the first wildflowers to emerge in the spring, and as such, it is an important source of nectar and pollen for a wide variety of native and non-native bees.


Growing Uvularia grandiflora


This perennial prefers humus-rich soil, but it will happily grow in average garden soil. Merry Bells prefers moist conditions but established plants tolerate dry spells in the summer months.

Uvularia grandiflora seeds can be difficult to germinate and require a period of cold to germinate properly. I find Merry Bells are slow-growing (the clump in my garden is old yet it has barely changed size), so I'd recommend buying a bare root plant. 

Divide Merry Bells in the early fall.


Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens

Not A Native


When you are shopping for Uvularia grandiflora you may come across this similar plant: 

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens is native to Korea. Like Solomon's Seal, they emerge mid-spring with arching stalks of bright green leaves. Lemon yellow flowers will last for up to a couple of weeks. Blackberries appear in late summer. Part to full shade and clay soil that is on the moist side is this plant's preferences. Height: 70-90 cm ) 27-35 cm, Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.


Top row from left to right: Bleeding Heart' Gold Heart', Daffodils, and Virginia Bluebells
Bottom row: Tulips, Pulmonaria and Anemone Nemorosa

Hybrid Trout Lily (Erythronium) with Uvularia grandiflora in the background.

Coordinates


Uvularia grandiflora is at home in a woodland setting. Native co-ordinates might include Trout Lily (Erythronium), Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria), Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and native ferns ( Bulblet, Sheild, Cinnamon and Lady fern to name just a few).  Other companions might be tulips, daffodils, primula, Bleeding Heart, Pulmonaria and Hellebores. 

A Few Sources

I was able to find many native plant nurseries that sell Merry Bells but don't offer mailorder services. I'd recommend doing a local search before you pay shipping fees. Because native plants are sometimes a little harder to find, I am going to include a few links that a quick online search produced. 

I have not ordered from these companies, nor do I stand to benefit from any order you place. If you have a native plant nursery to suggest, please share a recommendation in the comments section. It would be a great help.

Canada:

Frazer Thimble Farms

USA:

Botanically Inclined
Breck's 
Morning Sky Greenery
Plant Delights
Prairie Nursery Native Plants and Seeds 


Plant type: Herbaceous perennial

Native Range: Eastern and central North America

Height: 30-45 cm(12-18 inches)

Spread: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches)

Flower: Pendulous, somewhat bell-shaped with six partially twisted yellow petals

Bloom period: Spring

Leaf: Lance-shaped, perfoliate, bright green foliage

Light: Part to full shade

Soil: Moist, rich, well-drained soil but will tolerate dry conditions in summer

Move: Divide in the fall 

Problems: None

USDA Zones: 3-9

12 comments:

  1. I think Canning Perennials in Paris, Ontario carries Uvularia. I have a plant from them that I bought years ago and it is one of my favourites coming up year after year here in Calgary.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this source information!

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  2. I'm a big fan of Uvularia. As it happens, so are the squirrels in my garden. I've had no less than four new plants dug up over the years so I've given up trying to plant one.

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    1. Interesting Stephanie! We have lots of squirrels and I have never had an issue.

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  3. I have some that have multiplied nicely here in north Alabama. I love them because they offer a different type of bloom and foliage. I have them planted with painted ferns, hellebores, lily of the valley, and bleeding heart.

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    1. I can just imagine the combination of plants you describe Melissa– it would be wonderful.

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  4. I live in Ontario just outside Toronto and have a shade garden, love this native plant given to be as a gift from another gardener friend. how can i divide it, it is a large clump and its very early srpring, i read you nedd to do this in the fall? can i do it now in spring?

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    1. I wouldn't divide your plant just now. It will bloom in about a months time and dividing it now will stress the plant and may mean that you lose your flowers. If you have no other choice but to lift and divide it in the spring, do it after it flowers (mid-June). Water the divisions on a regular basis to aid the plant in its recovery. The better time for division would be the fall. The reasons; its not in flower, the temperatures are cooler and there tends to be more rain in the fall.
      I have had my plant for years and have never divided it. It's slow-growing and plants like this generally don't require frequent division. The reason you might want to divide it is to make more plants. I hope to divide my Merry Bells this fall for this very reason. As I said, I don't have experience in this particular division, but my gut instinct tells me to lift the clump and divide it with a knife. Hope this helps.

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  5. I just spotted this plant in the forest in central Ontario, near Bancroft yesterday. If I hadn't read your post, I wouldn't have even noticed it. The yellow is so soft, it blends in perfectly in the forest. I spotted several clumps on it at the edges of the wood and may have to go back to dig up some for my garden.

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    1. I am glad that my post has altered you to a pretty wildflower.

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