Bellwort

bellwort

Flower Description:
Lemon yellow, bell-shaped flowers that droop in coils. Petals (6) appear to be wilted or dehydrated. Usually 1-3 flowers per stem.

Fruit:
Several-seeded, three-angled (triangular) capsule (to 0.5” long).

Leaf Description:
Bright green, lance-shaped leaves that are long (1-3”) and droop downward. Underside of leaves can be hairy.

Common Names:

Merrybells, Strawbells, Wild Oats, Mohawk Weed, Straw Lily, Yellow Bellwort

Established Plant Colonies in Norway Valley

bellwort-map

Etymology

Family: Lily (Liliaceae)
Height: To 20” (50 cm)
Flowering: April – June
Habitat: Wet, Shady, Wooded Areas
Cycle: Perennial
Comments: Do Not Pick

Large-Flowered or Yellow Bellwort are names alluding to the shape, size, and color of the flower. The unusually twisted, yellow petals hang in a way which resembles a type of bell. Wort is Latin meaning common, suggesting it is a common spring wildflower.
The scientific name, Uvularia grandiflora, has an interesting etymology. The twisting yellow petals are reminiscent of the human uvula. Uvularia therefore is Latin for the small conical body at the center of the human palate. The way the flower is suspended from its stalk is also characteristic of the way the uvula hangs in the back of the throat. Uvularia can also be translated to mean wood daffodil describing the color of the flower. Grandifloria is Latin meaning large or big flower. Another species of Uvularia, Sessile Bellwort, U. sessilifolia, is smaller and occasionally mistaken for U. grandiflora.

Common Names

Merrybells, Strawbells: Names reflecting the shape of the twisted petals that form the flower. Straw may refer to the color of the yellow flower.
Straw Lily: Large-Flowered Bellwort is a member of the Lily family. The flower resembles a lily, but is narrow.
Wild Oats: The name of another wildflower that resembles Bellwort, but has white flowers.

Reproduction

Bellwort reproduces vegetatively by sending up shoots from underground horizontal rhizomes. This form of reproduction generally leads to large colonies of Bellwort that can be found adorning wooded hillsides.

Medical Uses

Bellworts have been used for medical remedies by both Native Americans and early pioneers. Generally, the plant has been incorporated for treatment of snakebites, reducing swellings, and as a poultice for other topical wounds and skin inflammations. Concoctions made from the roots were used to treat canker sores, among other mouth infections. The Ojibwe and Forest Potawatomi used the roots of Bellworts in an infusion to cure backaches and alleviate sore muscles and tendons.
The Doctrine of Signatures is the belief that a plant’s shape indicates its use. Because Bellworts are shaped like the uvula, it was used to treat sore throats and other throat diseases. Europeans who followed the Doctrine of Signatures quickly found that though Bellwort may look like the uvula, it is not an effective treatment for the throat.

Other Uses

The roots, leaves, and upper stems provided nourishment for early settlers and Native Americans. By gathering the upper stems and leaves as greens, the young shoots could be boiled and eaten as an asparagus substitute. The fleshy roots are small, but edible when cooked. Because they contain some nutritional value, the roots were occasionally included as an ingredient in diet drinks. Because theplants are small, however, damage to the shoots, leaves, or roots generally kills the plant entirely. The plants should remain undisturbed and only gathered as food in cases of dire emergency.