The Cahaba Lilies
What are Cahaba Lilies?
The Cahaba Lily is an aquatic flowering plant which grows only in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. A type of spiderlily belonging to the amaryllis family, the Cahaba lily is noted for the striking beauty of its three-inch-wide white flowers. The lily requires a very specialized habitat—swift-flowing water over rocks and lots of sun—and thus is restricted to shoal areas at or above the fall line.
The Cahaba lilies bloom from mid-May to mid-June (or Mother’s Day to Father’s Day). The best and largest populations in the Cahaba River are located in the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge.
How can I see Cahaba Lilies?
The Cahaba River Society provides naturalist-guided canoe trips to see the lilies on weekends throughout their blooming season and have for over 20 years. CRS provides all the needed equipment. Our naturalist, Dr. Randy Haddock, is a foremost expert about the Cahaba lilies – in fact, Randy’s nighttime, nimble-footed research on the lily shoals observed for the first time the primary pollinator of the lilies, the Plebian sphinx moth. His guided canoe trips are a delight – people learn all about the globally-significant biodiverse wildlife of the River as well. And get to sip lily nectar (tastes like orange-honeysuckle). The schedule of CRS Cahaba Lily Trips is posted in early spring of each year.
To visit the lilies on your own, you can take a trip to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge located in Bibb County, Alabama, approximately six miles east of West Blocton on County Road 24.
Directions to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge:
1. Take I-59 South from Birmingham for about 30 miles to the Hwy 5 West Blocton/Centreville exit (Exit 97).
2. Hwy 5/Hwy 11 is 4-lane for about 3 miles where Hwy 5 turns abruptly south (to the left) as a 2-lane. Watch for this turn!
3. Travel about 8 miles south on Hwy 5 to a blinking yellow light. Turn left (onto County Road 24) to West Blocton.
4. Continue straight at the stop sign (passing West Blocton High School and West Blocton Elementary on the right) for 5 miles.
5. Look for the Refuge sign on the right (not the 1st wooden sign which is a sign for the Wildlife Management, but the 2nd sign). Shortly after the sign is a dirt road on the right, River Trace, leading directly into the Refuge.
How can I learn more about the Cahaba Lily?
Visit the Cahaba Lily Festival in West Blocton. This year’s festival will be held on the last Saturday of May.
You can also visit these online resources:
The Cahaba Lily is sometimes confused with other blooming plants that grow along southeastern waterways. There are a few qualities that are unique to the Cahaba Lily:
- large white blossoms sprout in clusters that bloom only one at a time with each bloom lasting only 24 hours from early May to late July
- bulbs grow wedged in rocks in swift moving shoals that receive direct sunlight
- mature seed pods sink in water
The Swamp Lily, Hymenocalis oxidentalis
A plant often mistaken for the Cahaba lily is the Carolina Spider Lily or Swamp Lily, hymenocalis oxidentalis. Though the plants share some characteristics, there are key differences:
- Swamp lily blossoms are in clusters of up to six per stalk occurring in July and August
- Swamp lilies grow in marshy areas
- Seed pods float in water
To learn more about hymenocallis oxidentalis, click here to visit its wildflower.org profile.