- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

PLUM BRANCH, S.C.

Donna Wear and Judy Gordon crouch among the thick, leafy plant clusters that erupt from the rocky bottom of Stevens Creek, counting and cataloging fat green seeds that are the size of olives.

It’s late in the blooming season, but a few plants still exhibit their rare flowers — ghostly and delicate, like inverted parasols of fine white paper, surrounded by a starburst of six fingerlike petals.

“I’m reminded of antiquity when I look at these things,” says Miss Wear, a biology professor at nearby Augusta State University in Georgia.

The shoals spider lily, also commonly known as the Cahaba lily, blooms only from mid-May into early July. Its flowers open and then wither in less than two days.

And in the U.S., it’s found only in a swath of streams in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Known populations form a chain of 31 counties across the three states, with a wide gap across central Georgia.

Scientists think the shoals spider lily once thrived in this Georgia gap. Miss Wear and Miss Gordon fear its habit may be shrinking further along the Savannah River, which forms the Georgia-South Carolina border.

“On the river last year, when we began this project, we could not find a single germinating seed,” Miss Wear said. “One of the biggest reasons for their rarity has to do with the damming of rivers and destroying that shoal habitat.”

Miss Wear has been studying the species for the past year, comparing plants growing in Stevens Creek to those found nearby in the Savannah River. She wants to know how many seeds they produce, how high the plants can grow to keep their pollen from being washed away and how changes in flow along streams and rivers affect their ability to reproduce.

The shoals spider lily was first documented in America in 1773 by naturalist and explorer William Bartram.

More than 230 years later, the lilies have attracted a fan base. About 300 people attended the annual Cahaba Lily Festival held in late May in West Blocton, Ala., at the peak of blooming season. South Carolina has its own lily festival at Landsford Canal State Park on the Catawba River.


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