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Gardening 101: Largeflower Bellwort

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Gardening 101: Largeflower Bellwort

March 18, 2022

Largeflower Bellwort, Uvularia grandiflora: ‘The Bias Cut’

Spotted in a woodland garden, largeflower bellwort is like a freeze-frame of spring’s great unfurling. At flowering time, blooms and foliage are both whorled, at which point they pause, while everything else charges upwards and outwards. Vase-shaped clumps of Uvularia grandiflora are quietly showy, in structure and color.

Like a lily (to which it is related), the outer parts of a bellwort flower manifest as tepals: not strictly petals in other words, and without a casing of sepals. Instead of opening out into trumpets, the narrow, twisted tepals hang down like unstructured gowns, perfectly complemented by narrow, curling leaves.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

Above: Bellwort flowers gracefully, resembling a gown more than a bell.

Largeflower bellwort (also known as great merrybells) is native to eastern North America as far south as Georgia. The flowers are only about 1 1/2-inches long; the name mainly distinguishes it from the smaller form, Uvularia perfoliata, whose spread is more central, reaching from Ontario to Florida.

Above: Arching stems are pulled down by the weight of one or two striking flowers.

Cheat Sheet:

• Flowering in mid to late spring when it has reached about 1-foot high, largeflower bellwort puts on more height when the flowers are over. Attractive to solitary bees and generally untroubled by insects classed as ‘pests’, Uvularia grandiflora is a reliable performer, with an RHS Award of Garden Merit.
• The arching stems have the appearance of piercing through the leaves, which grow alternately, culminating in one or two flowers.
• The cultivar U. grandiflora var. pallida is a paler yellow, with showier flowers that bloom slightly later.

Above: Uvularia grandiflora in a woodland garden.

Keep It Alive:

• Imitate its natural environment by giving it a sheltered situation dappled or full shade, in hummus-rich soil. This is easily achieved when bellwort grows in the leaf litter of deciduous trees, in conditions that are moist, but well-drained.
• Clump-forming, bellwort grows from rhizomes. It can be slow to propagate naturally (from seed that is carried by ants) but it recovers well from rhizome division in early spring or fall. A long-living perennial.
• Either hardy between USDA zones 3-7 or 4-9 (there is some debate; worth checking your specific area). Deer like the young shoots.

Above: The arching structure of bellwort is slightly reminiscent of Solomon’s Seal but it is happily ignored by sawfly larvae.
Above: In dappled shade, verticals of yellow and green combine with emerging foliage. Goes well with ferns,  hostas, heuchera and woodland ground cover.

For more Gardening 101 guides, see:

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