The sides of the streambed are blanketed in waxy, red-tinged leaves, small white flowers visible only upon a closer look. Had we not traveled to Devils Fork State Park specifically to see this delicate wildflower, we might have hiked right past the colonies of this rare plant without a second glance.
The Oconee Bell is only found in a few locations in the southern Appalachians, in moist, wooded areas along the streams of Georgia, North and South Carolina. The tiny flowers are one of the first to bloom in the Upstate – from mid-March to early April – and attract quite the crowd to this state park better known for summer swimming and camping.
One of the park staff said “we had a brochure in the holder by the trailhead. Usually folks finish the trail and put them right back. Last weekend cleaned us right out, there were at least a hundred; I’m going to have to print more.”
The flower has a very limited range in the wild even though it can be purchased commercially and grows well in gardens, and therefore the appearance of the native wildflower is cause for celebration. Every year Devils Fork puts on the Oconee Bell Nature Walk, this year the event falling near the beginning of the bloom on March 17th. If you missed the walk, you still have time to catch the Oconee Bell blooming; the ranger predicted the plant will be hitting peak bloom this week, and the Oconee Bell Nature Trail takes you along a dozen colonies of this unique wildflower.
The trail is an easy 1-mile loop that takes hikers through the oak-hickory forest, past a small pond and alongside the creek that is home to the elusive wildflower that gives the trail its name. In addition to the Oconee Bell, dozens of other plants and trees are identified by wooden markers, and several small cascades on the creek add to the list of attractions available year-long.
If you’re headed to Devils Fork to hike the Oconee Bell trail you just follow signs to Ranger Station. A quick stop there for a map or restrooms, and then it’s just a matter of crossing to the other side of the parking lot to the trailhead. The parking lot is on the southeast corner of Lake Jocassee, and the scenic views of the lake, Double Springs Island, and the swimming and picnic area on the southwest shore are stunning. Bring a picnic to eat on the lake, or upon finishing your hike circle around to Buckeye Drive where you will find picnic shelters and a playground.
But in any case, make sure you practice what the Park Naturalist terms “belly botany” – get an up close look at the low-lying flowers by getting close to the ground. There are several locations were the colonies are close to the trail, and so it was relatively easy for all the kids (and adults) in our group to get a good look at the Bell. Though it is important to remember, for your safety and the protection of the bells, to please stay on the trail.
|The 2011 stamp celebrating the Oconee Bell and botanist Asa Gray|
Devils Fork State Park website here
Map of Devils Fork SP trails here
My previous post on the park here
A post on the other end of Lake Jocassee and Jumping Off Rock here