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Sleuthing the Bellwort. Sessilifolia or Perfoliata?

Sessilifolia or Perfoliata?

Three species of bellwort are found in Arkansas: Uvularia grandiflora, U. sessilifolia, and U. perfoliata. The one I see most often around here is the grandiflora, or Large-flowered bellwort as it’s commonly called.

Bellwort in the Ginseng Habitat

Bellwort often grows in the ginseng habitat, which makes it one of the ginseng companion plants, but it can tolerate more sun and is sometimes found in places ginseng won’t grow. It likes at least light shade and rich, moist soil with lots of rotted leaf debris. It is the combination of deep shade, moist soil, and nice layer of rotted leaf debris that gives the ginseng habitat its unique characteristics.

Large bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)
Large bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

There’s a spot along our county road that is sometimes sprayed with herbicides. The first time this happened, I mourned the loss of a large wild raspberry bramble I used to visit often when it fruited. Had I known it would get sprayed, I would have transplanted many of the plants that live there, including the raspberries. That raspberry is the only red raspberry bramble I know of in our area, although the plant itself is supposed to be fairly common in the Ozarks.

The entire 500 yard stretch is home to so many of the various woodland plants I love to watch. The little ecosystem is regaining health now and even some of the raspberries have returned, but soon it’ll be in danger of elimination again because of that robust growth.


This year I noticed a colony of small bellworts blooming and decided I’d move some of them in case the spray happened again this year. I knew they were bellworts, but wasn’t sure of the species. I’d never seen these kinds before. They weren’t the usual yellow bellworts I normally see.

When I got back to the house I potted some of them up for the nursery and planted some in the habitat near the nursery. Then I set about making a proper identification. According to my copy of the Atlas of Vascular Plants of Arkansas, it would probably be Uvularia sessilifolia, since the perfoliata isn’t known to be in our county. However, I’ve found other plants not known to be in our county, so that didn’t necessarily help.

What’s in a Name?

Hmmm. With no pictures in the book to give a clue, I wondered about those last names. What did they mean? The latin words used in scientific names are usually full of visual clues if you know what they mean. Time to pull out the dictionary to see what sessile meant. I already knew perfoliata.

“Sessile” means the leaf is directly connected to the stem without a little stem of its own. “Perfoliata” means the stem runs through the leaf, making it appear to be perforated by the stem. Now that I had these meanings to go on, I couldn’t remember whether the leaves were attached or whether the stem ran through. So I had to go take a look. They weren’t right outside the back door so that meant taking the 4-wheeler and the camera and heading back down the driveway.

Sessile Bellwort (Uvularia sessilfolia)
Sessile Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia). This is a smaller and more dainty variety than the yellow Large-flower Bellwort I usually see.

Turns out it is Sessile. I had hoped it was U. perfoliata, because that one is endangered and rare to find. But this one is beautiful, too. One of the common names for it is “Fairy Bells”, which I like.

I may have a few of these at market, but they might be finished blooming by then.




5 thoughts on “Sleuthing the Bellwort. Sessilifolia or Perfoliata?”

  1. I’m lucky that there is a nice population of the rare U. perfoliata is a short drive away from Little Rock, on the Ouachita National Trail in eastern Perry County, for me to study and photograph.

    It’s intermediate in size between U. sessiliflora and U. grandiflora. The interior surface of the petals are covered in warts/bumps – that’s the key to knowing if you have found U. perfoliata.

    Here is a shot that clearly shows the petal bumps:


    1. Thanks, Eric. It’s a good thing for the bumps . Otherwise, the perfoliata and the grandiflora look very nearly identical! The grandiflora is the only I’d ever seen until noticing the small, pale sessilifolia the other day. But I didn’t realize that both the grandiflora and perfoliata have such similarities. The descriptive latin wouldn’t have been as helpful if it were those two I had been trying to differentiate.

      Do you have a proof positive way to tell which is black cohosh and which is doll’s eyes before they get flowers? That’s what my next post is about, and I still can’t tell for certain until they bloom.

      Thanks for dropping in and offering your insight!

  2. U. grandiflora is at least twice as tall as U. perfoliata and U. grandiflora flowers are a bright yellow/orange, while U. perfoliata flowers are a pale yellow, almost cream. Seeing them side by side it’s clear they’re very different. Not much help if you’ve never seen them both, I know!

    I have never seen either of those species of Actaea in person – sorry!

  3. Pingback: Wild Ozark's Monthly Newsletter -May 2015 | Wild Ozark

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