Wild Oats

Wild Oats - Sessile BellwortWild Oats (Uvularia sessilifolia), also known as Sessile Bellwort, is found in rich woods in the eastern US.  It’s easy to walk right past it, since the flowers dangle down below grass-like leaves.

Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants warns against collecting unless it is very abundant. If you find large patches, gather young shoots and remove the leaves. Boil the young shoots for 10 minutes, and serve as you would asparagus. I’ve never tried it, never found a big enough patch to feel confident about collecting and still leaving some for next year.



I can’t find any reference that tells why this plant from the Lily Family is called “oats” at all.  Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs lists this plant saying Native Americans used a root tea for various ailments.  It also lists another different species from the Grasses Family with the common name “Wild Oats” –  Avena fatua, the species from which cultivated oats derive.  That one it makes sense to call wild oats!

Wild Oats Range MapI did a little searching on the Internet to try to determine where the phrase “to sow wild oats” came from.  There were plenty of colorful definitions for the phrase, but the only hint at its origin that I found was this:

To sow wild oats means ‘to behave foolishly’ or ‘indulge in excess while one is young.’ This has been an English idiom since the 16th century, and it refers to the sowing of inferior wild grain instead of superior cultivated grain, alluding to sexual promiscuity. It suggests that such is something that one will grow out of. The phrase likely arose in one language (English or Spanish) and was translated into the other. (Melanie and Mike, Take our Word for It, Source)

I must assume the wild oats the young and foolish sow are the Avena species, not the Uvularia.  As for the other behaviors… well…  hmm…

6 thoughts on “Wild Oats

  1. I have ah-hah moments every once in a while–the old sayings that have lost reference until we find ourselves dealing with the literal, and find it still true.
    I hope you’re getting some warmer spring weather–

  2. The Sessile Bellwort or Wild Oats grows in my rock garden on the north side of the house–it only receives late afternoon sun. Your photo is lovely. I was surprised it just showed up there on its own. Ours is not blooming yet. I did see some large-flowered Bellwort–similar but larger and showier–at a local park a couple of weeks ago.

  3. I love finding out the source of words and phrases – I hadn’t really thought about this one, but it’s interesting. But believe it or not, I’m actually more interested in the botany lesson. Thanks – it’s always interesting to see what you have to teach on a daily basis.

    Maybe you should get Tom to expand ‘Bird Quiz’ to ‘Bird and Plant Quiz’?

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