Driving up Main Street West Blocton on Saturday, I began to wonder where the huge crowd was as I passed the Tiger Hut and approached the barricade keeping traffic from the vendor tents. Cars lined both sides in the parallel parking spaces, but the street didn’t seem overwhelmed with traffic. Then I turned right toward the Post Office to go park and realized where everyone hid their vehicles. Parking was packed.
People came from all across Alabama and even from other states to the Cahaba Lily Festival. They all want to see the rare, beautiful lilies. “I get calls all the time from people as far away as Michigan and Minnesota who want to learn more about the lilies and come see them,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer Kieth Westlake said. The Manager of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge (CRNWR), Officer Westlake was pleased with the turnout.
Not only did the crowd pack the Cahaba Lily center on Main Street, they also lined their vehicles along the gravel road in the CRNWR as they scouted the riverbanks for the best views of the blooming Cahaba lilies and went canoeing for an even closer look.
Cahaba Riverkeeper David Butler was not only excited about the turnout of people interested in the lilies, he was glad they would have a smooth ride going to see them. “We’ve just gotten the road reworked,” he smiled, “It’s super smooth right now. Carmeuse Lime and Stone did a great job. They donated the materials, equipment, and manpower, partnering with Cahaba Riverkeeper to get it done. We’re very pleased with it.” Indeed the gravel road proved an unusually pleasant ride.
Meanwhile, back on Main Street …
Church bus ferries took festival goers to the river to see the lilies, and offered the option of taking a canoe for a guided trip through the massive populations downstream of where you can drive along the bank.
Besides the vendors and others set up outside, the Cahaba Lily Center served as a lecture hall for dozens who wanted to learn more about the festival’s namesake.
Back for another year as keynote speaker, Samford University’s Doctor Larry Davenport kept the crowd’s interest with a casual, sharp wit as well as fascinating details about the lilies and tales of his field research. Dr. Davenport has long been considered the world’s foremost expert on the Hymenocallis coranoria, a.k.a. the Shoals spiderlily, a.k.a. the Cahaba lily.
Among the many interesting pieces of the lecture, Dr. Davenport said the Cahaba lily:
- Is known to exist in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, with the highest populations by far in Alabama
- Creates one “perfect” bloom every evening
- Emits an overwhelmingly sweet scent
- Is a bright white that can be seen at night even without moonlight, …
…which in part led to Davenport’s postulation that the species is pollinated at night, and further to the confirmation of this by Dr. Randy Haddock, Field Director of the Cahaba River Society.
All of these and more are points I did not know prior to attending the festival. Despite having grown up here, I find that I know very little about the lilies. How many Bibb County natives do? How many of us take for granted the beautiful, rare flower that draws fans from all over the country? If you missed the festival this year, be sure to attend next year and learn why the Cahaba lily is so special. In the meantime, take a canoe or kayak – or wade the rocks – and go see them in person. Take a camera and make the trip before the end of June when they stop blooming for the year. Enjoy the fact that you live among the lilies.