ORRIN MORRIS: Oconee bell reminds us of the diversity of God's world

Oconee Bell Shortia galacifolia

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 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).

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

When my son Bryan 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 will examine today.

For many years, his framed photograph hung in our house.OCONEE BELL

Shortia galacifoliaThe Oconee bell is officially present in only a few counties, most of which are in the mountain gorges along the Georgia, Tennessee and 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 Andre Michaux discovered the Oconee bell in 1787 and in his notes described it as a "small plant with saw-toothed leaves," according to Thomas E. Hemmerly's "Appalachian Wildflowers."

The plant is stemless but the leaves rise slightly on upright leaf stalks, or petioles. The white nodding bell-shaped flower rises 6 to 10 inches on a reddish stem-like spike, or peduncle, 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 point inward.

To see the Oconee bell in bloom, one must start watching within the next 30 to 40 days. Of all 300-plus wildflowers that have been 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.

Why feature this rare early spring wildflower in the heart of winter? 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, detailed Census figures will be published soon showing the diversity of our population. 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.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. Notecards are available of the wildflowers published in the Citizen. His email is odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com or call him at 770-929-3697.