Oconee bell flower (Shortia galacifolia)

Today we braved the rain and went for a stroll inThe Botanical Gardens at Asheville, North Carolina. It was a chilly late February day, but we were richly rewarded with the first Oconee Bell flowers of the season!

Normally flowering from mid-March to April, we had just come off a long warm stretch and here they were. In fact, the beautiful and rare Oconee Bells flower (Shortia galacifolia) is one of the first native wildflowers to bloom each spring.

Oconee Bells, aka Acony Bell flower

Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia), aka Acony Bell, are one of the first native flowers to bloom in the Southern Appalachians

Found only in a few counties in the southern Appalachian Mountains in a very limited range, the Oconee bell flower is a rare wildflower and hard to find in the wild. But if you get to the right spot this native wildflower can be locally abundant. We’ve included a list at the end of this article of places where you can see this beautiful wildflower.

The plant is considered endangered and may not be collected in the wild. 

Plant type: Perennial / Evergreen

Height: 4″- 6″

Width: 4″ – 6″

Flowering: early spring (march-april)

Garden use: native ground cover

Native to: southern Appalachians, United States

Oconee Bells are the perfect ground cover in a shade garden or in a woodland setting in their native range. Their beautiful foliage turns a reddish bronze hue in the winter months.

Oconee bells green and bronze leaves
Oconee bells make beautiful ground cover

Life History

Oconee Bells reproduce by seed as well as by the spread of horizontal stems creeping across the ground, rooting at nodes, and producing new plants.

Its flowers are pollinated by bees. The seeds of Oconee Bells are dispersed downslope by gravity and germinate best in patches of bare soil produced by disturbances such as small landslides or tree blowdowns.

Oconee Bells take a few years to mature and will not flower until they are four or more years old. They produce a single 1-inch white to pinkish bloom in early spring. The wildflower literature notes that they flower middle march / early April, but we’ve seen Oconee Bells flowering in Asheville as early as February 25.

Oconee Bells flower
Oconee bells

Where are Oconee Bells native to?

Oconee Bells are native to a small part of the southern Appalachians. They are only found in a few counties in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Oconee Bell range map Shortia galacifolia. (data from BONAP North American Plant Atlas)

Alabama: DeKalb
Georgia: Rabun
South Carolina: Oconee, Pickens, Greenville
North Carolina: Macon, Swain, Jackson, Transylvania, Buncombe, McDowell, Burke, Avery.

Where can I buy Oconee Bells?

I have tried to find Oconee Bells for sale but I haven’t been successful. I’ll update the post when I find a nursery that sells them.

The Oconee Bell festival

The BellFest, as it’s known, is a day full of music, talks, kids activities, food trucks, local vendors, and guided trail walks to celebrate this rare wild flower.

In 2023, the festival is on the 18th of March from 10 to 3 at Devils State Fork Park.

More information on BellFest visit the Friends of Jocassee website here.

Oconee bells

Where to see Oconee Bells?

We’ve found a few of places where you can see Oconee Bells in North Carolina and South Carolina. Please respect these incredible rare flowers. They tend to grow along creeks under rhododendrons.

Walking by a bed of Oconee Bells at The Botanical Gardens at Asheville, NC

The Botanical Gardens at Asheville, North Carolina

151 W.T. Weaver Blvd
Asheville, NC 28804

Find additional information here on The Botanical Gardens at Asheville website.

Highlands Botanical Gardens, North Carolina

930 Horse Cove Road
Highlands, NC

Find additional information here on The Highlands Botanical Gardens website.

Oconee Bell Trail, Devils Fork State Park, South Carolina

161 Holcombe CIR
Salem, SC 29676

Find additional information on the Oconee Bell Nature Trail  here on the Devils Fork State Park website.

Chapman Bridge Oconee Bell Preserve, South Carolina Botanical Garden

Old Chapman Bridge Road
Salem, SC

Find additional information here on the Naturaland Trust

Oconee Bell flower at Chapman Bridge Preserve
Oconee Bell flowering at Chapman Bridge Oconee Bell Preserve in SC.

Natural Heritage Garden Trail, South Carolina Botanical Garden

South Carolina Botanical Garden
150 Discovery Lane
Clemson, SC 29634

Find additional information here on the SC Botanical Garden website.

Nine Times Preserve, South Carolina

Nine Times Preserve
1750 East Preston McDaniel Road (Approximate address)
Pickens, SC 29671

Find additional information here on The Nature Conservancy website.

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