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Devils Fork State Park

with Livability Educator Jaclin DuRant

After reading a tweet from SC State Parks that the Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia) were blooming at Devils Fork State Park, I just had to go take a hike and see them for myself. Oconee Bells have quite a history in the botany world as an extremely elusive wildflower. My personal fascination with the tiny flowering plant is based partially on its designation as a rare endemic plant.

photo of Oconee Bells in bloom at Devils Fork State Park

Oconee Bells in bloom at Devils Fork State Park

For ecologists, the term rare means that there are only a relatively small number of organisms in existence, the term endangered means that the organism is in a situation where it is threatened with extinction, and the term endemic means that the organism is restricted to a geographic area. The southern Appalachian Mountains contain a number of plant species that are considered rare, endangered, or endemic. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Oconee Bells only occur in the wild in GA, NC, and SC. In both GA and NC, Oconee Bells are listed as endangered, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s PLANTS database. My field guide to plant communities states that this plant can be found in acid cove forests along stream banks and in gorges.

photo of Close up of an Oconee Bell flower

Close up of an Oconee Bell flower

I find endemic species fascinating. Often, endemism is a result of many years adaptation to a set of environmental conditions that are unique to a specific ecosystem or geographic area. Since plants are unable to pick up their roots and move to a spot with more favorable growing conditions, they instead develop a wide variety of adaptations to survive. The full mechanisms surrounding “why” a plant is rare or endemic to a specific area are often not well understood, but I enjoy speculation, and in the meantime, I also enjoy taking pictures of beautiful wildflowers such as Oconee Bells.

photo of Oconee Bells along the side of a stream

Oconee Bells along the side of a stream

Since Oconee Bells are considered rare, I was expecting to have a difficult search to find a flower to photograph. You can imagine my pleasure when I turned a corner in the trail and came upon a veritable carpet of brilliant green trailing foliage spotted with delicate white and pink tinged blossoms. Oconee Bells can reproduce and spread through rhizomes, meaning that underground portions of the plant grow outward and sprout new aboveground foliage and flowers. It is important to remember that even though a plant may be locally abundant, it can still be rare. The Oconee Bell is a special part of South Carolina’s natural heritage, and as one of the only places that this plant can grow in the wild, our state is essential for its continued survival.

photo of a grasshopper blends in with a log

A grasshopper blends in with a log

The one mile loop trail at Devils Fork was a gentle and fun hike, and in addition to the beautiful Oconee Bells, I saw quite a few interesting plants and animals. It was a big day for cryptic coloration (nature’s camouflage), and I saw grasshoppers, moths, and spiders that blended in perfectly with the forest floor. Cryptic coloration is another great example of an adaptation. Animals that can hide themselves in plain sight by blending in with their surroundings increase their chances of surviving. If this lovely little moth hadn’t flown in front of me before landing in the leaves, I never would have seen it.

photo of beautiful camoflauge on a moth

Beautiful camoflauge on this moth

The Oconee Bell trail led through hardwood and pine forest and passed a small pond where a pair of ducks paddled and water striders skated across the surface. Then the trail looped back around, again crossing streams and small gorges lined with Oconee Bells, and back out to the parking area where I was treated with a gorgeous view of Lake Jocassee and the surrounding mountains.

photo of Lake Jocassee

Lake Jocassee

It was about an hour’s drive to get to Devils Fork from Greenville, but the hike was definitely worth the drive.
More Information on Devils Fork State Park

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