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The Cahaba Lily Festival

West Blocton, Alabama is a rural town with a population of 1240, according to the latest census. However, every May hundreds of people from far-flung places descend upon the community to admire the Cahaba Lily, which blooms at nearby Hargrove Shoals within the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. This is the largest stand of Cahaba Lilies in the world.

There are about 60 documented patches of the rare, stunningly beautiful perennial bulb that grows only in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. This flowering "Ode to Joy" has become an exaltation of spring and a special symbol of nature's fragility and resilience.

Growing about three feet tall, Hymenocallis coronaria has striking fragrant white flowers made up of six long narrow petals surrounding a membranous corona. It is easy to see that it is a type of Spider Lily.It has very specific environmental needs, including full sun, swift-moving clear water, and rocky shoals. It begins to flower in mid-May and continues to bloom sporadically for about a month. After pollination and fertilization, seeds ripen until they drop and are swept into rock crevices, where new plants soon germinate. 

On May 21, I attended my first Cahaba Lily Festival, which included live music and updates by various environmental groups. Dr. Larry Davenport, professor of Biology at Samford University, presented an interesting and informative lecture about the Cahaba Lily. I was shocked to learn that the Cahaba Lily has no federal or state protection.Then there was a free lunch, an old-fashioned, lip-smacking, pot luck type meal provided by the community. Everyone agreed it was all delicious, most especially the desserts. 

After lunch, shuttle buses carried participants out to the river, where we got to wade in the water and enjoy close-up views of the Cahaba Lilies. It was a fun way to work off our excess lunch calories.

Walking over somewhat slippery rocks could be challenging. Some of us were more graceful than others.

Here I am, just returned from a journey to the center of the river. I was smiling because I didn't fall in:

And here is my vote for cutest Cahaba Lily Festival attendee:


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Reader Comments (15)

That was so much fun ! I want to go too. btw Great pics .

May 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPatsi

Those lilies are delightful.
Difficult to grow in a garden?

May 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

Diana, these lilies are rare for a reason. They need very specific conditions and will soon perish without them. Our speaker emphasized we should never poach or purchase a Cahaba Lily. Only unscrupulous vendors would have them for sale. Deb

May 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

I can see in your face that you had a great time! I've seen those lilies in photos but never in person. As they clearly like their feet in wet soil, I guess that explains their absence in my area.

May 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

For habitat and the long view they are very much like our arum lilies Zantedeschia.
Which prefer to grow with wet feet.
We are asked NOT to buy bunches of cut flowers poached by street hawkers (battling to survive but).
Within the flower is the habitat of the (tiny) arum lily frog.

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

So interesting! I've never heard of this lily, but it's very pretty. It sounds like a great festival!

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

It's good to see your smiling face! What fun to tromp around in the water to see such a flower. Lovely!

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

You have really been getting around. So nice to see a photo of you!

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

These flowers are new to me. They practically glow in your pictures! Seeing all the visitors wading in the shallow water made me wonder how refreshing the water would be on a sunny day.

May 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I've never heard of this lily, not surprising really. Thank you for sharing your pleasure at seeing them. I hope they will be protected soon as I can imagine that with such specific requirements their environment must be getting smaller and smaller. Lovely to see who you are too!

May 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Wow, so beautiful! I had never heard of this flower or this park, so thanks for this post!

May 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Not only is this flower beautiful but I am amazed at the lovely environment it is growing in. The river is really pretty and the water looks pristine. I loved the first photograph of the two people in the distance just dwarfed by those big patches of lilies. How concerning though that the lilies are not protected in anyway. A really lovely and fascinating post Deb - thank you! xx

May 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

It is nice to see you Deb. I would love seeing the rare lilies. Too bad they have no federal protection. The place looks so interesting to explore and photograph. I like the painting too.

June 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

How wonderful to live in a part of the world where these beautiful flowers grow!

June 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Seems like a wonderful festival. Food, music and walking in the river surrounded by flowers... wow.

June 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

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