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.
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: