OCONEE BELL Shortia galacifolia

One of the most frequently repeated verses in the Bible was first recorded by King David when the Ark of the Covenant was finally brought to Jerusalem. His song of praise is found in 1 Chronicles 16:7-36. In verse 34 we read “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.” This very phrase is repeated five other times in the Psalms (106:1, 107:1, 118:1 and 29; and 136:1).

I suggest that we make this verse a daily reminder of the awe we have come to understand about Almighty God and the love expressed by the gift of His son.

When my one of my sons was in high school, a requirement in his science class was to study native plants in their habitat. While photographing plant life around Stone Mountain, he found the beautiful and unique wildflower we examine today.

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OCONEE BELL Shortia galacifolia

The unique wildflower is officially present in only a few counties, most of which are in the mountain gorges along the Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas’ borders. It is a perennial herb that grows in thick clusters. Its favorite habitat is stream banks and shady woods that have rich soils.

The most distinguishing feature is the shiny round leaves. The famous botanist André Michaux discovered the Oconee bell in 1787 and in his notes described it as a “small plant with saw-toothed leaves.”

The plant is stemless but the leaves rise slightly on upright leaf stalks. The white nodding bell-shaped flower rises 6 to 10 inches on a reddish stem-like spike, as pictured. The pistil is slightly longer than the five stamens but the anthers, that hold the pollen, are unusually large for a flower of that size and they point inward.

To see the Oconee bell in bloom, one must start watching within the first 30 or 40 days each year. Of all 300-plus wildflowers that I have featured in this column, this is the earliest bloomer. When these wildflowers do decide to bloom, you will have about seven days to catch a glimpse of them.

I like to feature this wildflower in the winter for three reasons. First, we need every reminder of the coming of spring, especially when we are enduring harsh wind-chill numbers. Second, it is an unusual looking plant that reminds us of the diversity of God’s world. Third, census figures that are periodically updated show us how diverse our population is. Remember who the only natives of America are and that all the rest of us are immigrants, whether from Europe, Asia, Africa, or South America.

“O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.” God’s love, expressed through His Son, is available to all who seek to follow Him.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with everything we had and the second was to love our neighbor as ourself. During this pandemic we are called upon to demonstrate our commitment to both commandments: first, God is at work to protect us and second, as we follow the pandemic protocol we not only protect ourselves but our neighbor, too.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit The Sketching Pad in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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