This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Fragrant, pale yellow, about 1 in. long, drooping singly (rarely 2) from tips of branches; perianth narrow, bellshaped, of 6 petal-like segments, rough within, spreading at the tip; 6 stamens; 3 styles united to the middle. Stem: 6 to 20 in. high, smooth, shining, forking about half way. Leaves: Apparently strung on the slender stem, oval, tapering at tip.
Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata)
Preferred Habitat - Moist, rich woods; thickets.
Flowering Season - May - June.
Distribution - Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, west to Mississippi.
Hanging like a palate (uvula) from the roof of a mouth, according to imaginative Linnaeus, the little bellwort droops, and so modestly hides behind the leaf its footstalk pierces that the eye often fails to find it when so many more showy blossoms arrest attention in the May woods. Slight fragrance helps to guide the keen bumblebee to the pale yellow bell. The tips spreading apart very little and the flower being pendent, how is she to reach the nectar secreted at the base of each of its six divisions? Is it not more than probable that the inner surface is rough, as if dusted with yellow meal, to provide a foothold for her as she clings? Now securely hanging from within the inhospitable flower, her long tongue can easily drain the sweets, and in doing so she will receive pollen, to be deposited, in all probability, on the stigmatic style branches of the next bellwort entered. (Illustration, p. 280.)
With a more westerly range than the perfoliate species, the similar Large-flowered Bellwort (U. grandiflora) grows in like situations. Its greenish lemon-yellow flowers, an inch to an inch and a half long, appear from April to May, or when the female bumblebees, that fly before their lords, are the only insects large and strong enough to force an entrance. Mr. Trelease, who noted them on the flowers near Madison, Wisconsin, saw that one laden with pollen from another blossom came in contact with the three sticky branches of the style, protruding between the anthers, when she crawled between the anthers and sepals, as she must, to reach the nectar secreted at the base. But the linear anthers shedding their pollen longitudinally, there is a chance that the flower may fertilize itself should no bee arrive before a certain point is reached.
The Sessile-leaved Bellwort, or Wild Oat (U. sessifolia), as its name implies, has its thin, pale green leaves tapering at either end, seated on the stem, not surrounding it, of apparently strung on it. The smaller flower is cream colored. A sharply three-angled capsule about an inch long follows. Range from Minnesota and Arkansas to the Atlantic.