U is for Uvularia

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

“We are happier in many ways when we are old than when we were young. The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage,” said Winston Churchill.

Wild oats belong to the Uvularia genus. Their drooping bell-shaped flowers lend the nick-names “Merry Bells,” “Bellflowers,” and “Bellwort.” Of course, Mr. Churchill did not intend his phrase literally. Nor did Fred A. Allen when he said, “Most of us spend the first six days of each week sowing wild oats. Then we go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure.” The idiom “sow your wild oats” refers to the youthful exploration of excitement, particularly in sexual relationships.

Other usages of the plant in literature include Charlotte M. Yonge’s “The Life of a Spinster,” Augustus de Morgan’s “A Budget of Paradoxes,” William James’ “The Will to Believe,” James A. Moss’ “Manual of Military Training,” Margaret Hill McCarter’s “Winning the Wilderness,” Will Irwin’s “The Readjustment,” Stanley Portal Hyatt’s “People of Position,” and George Meredith’s “The Ordeal of Richard Feverel.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox has a poem called “Wild Oats,” and the phrase figures into poems by T.W. Connor and Robert W. Service. John Gneisenau Neihardt refers to the plant in a literal sense.

Uvalaria are related to the lily. They produce yellow, down-facing flowers between April and May. New Age participants use the plant to help with centering and focus, particularly for those with depression, lack of energy, and learning disabilities.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a letter to his children, “The May flowers and bloodroot have gone, the anemonies and bellwort have come and the violets are coming.”