Exclusive and gorgeous plant
During the ice ages, the rivers of the south-east of the United States served as refugia for diverse species of plants and animals and today have very high biological diversity. Many of these plants and animals are unique to this area. Unfortunately, much of this was lost during the 19th and 20th centuries due to logging, dams, agriculture, and pollution.
We know more than 60 species of spider lilies. All of them grow in the central part of the Americas from the United States to Peru. Many species of these flowers grow in marshes and banks of rivers. All spider lilies have large, white and fragrant flowers. Flowers of some species have a green or yellowish tint. Most of these 60 plus species are very rare and some, unfortunately, are extinct by now.
Shoals spider lily (Hymenocallis coronaria) was discovered in 1783 in Savannah River (Georgia) by William Bartram. It is one of the most impressive endemic plants of the south-east states of the United States.
This plant grows only in shoals – shallow sections of fast-flowing streams. Streams should be clean and shoals – sunlit. Of course, there are not too many places with such a set of specific conditions. Thus the shoals spider lily is rare by its nature. Humans have not been helpful in this, to say it mildly. They inundated the fast-flowing rivers with dams and agricultural run-off silted the formerly clean rivers.
As a result in 1997, specialists knew only 65 populations, most of them quite small, with less than 10 plants. But in some locations, thousands upon thousands of these beautiful flowers grow. The three largest populations are in the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge (Alabama), Flint River (Georgia) and Landsford Canal State Park (South Carolina).
Flowers in the water
Shoals spider lily has quite large seeds: 3 by 4 cm and larger. These seeds fall in the stream and are brought by its force to some crevice between the stones, where it stops and can start growing.
In April flower stalks appear above the water and flowers open in late May-early June. Lily rises up to 1 m above the water but flower stalks are up to 1.25 m tall. The flower stalk has some 3-12 buds. Each flower lasts only for one day. It opens in the late evening – and this is the best time to admire these fragrant, absolutely unique “meadows”.
Research shows that the plants are pollinated by diverse insects. Much of this work could be done by Plebeian Sphinx Moth (Paratrea plebeja)) and other moths during the night but many insects (and also hummingbirds) come also during the day. Flowers are beloved by the gorgeous pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) and tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).
Landsford State Park
Catawba River near Lancaster has rapids (remember – shoals serve as a habitat of spider lilies!) which prevented the navigation in the river. Thus in 1820-1835, there was built a canal system to bypass these rapids. Of course, as it was usual in these times, much slave labor was involved.
Soon after came another transport technology – the railroad. The use of the canal was not feasible anymore and it was abandoned. Now we can admire the remaining structures – but nature has taken over.
Now here is a state park. For the most part of the year, people just walk in the forest and look at the ruins of canal structures and often take a boat trip in the fast stream of Catawba River. But every year in May-June comes the great flowering… If you have a chance to be there, don’t miss it!
- Scott H. Markwith, Michael J. Scanlon. Multiscale analysis of Hymenocallis coronaria (Amaryllidaceae) genetic diversity, genetic structure, and gene movement under the influence of unidirectional stream flow. American Journal of Botany 94(2): 151–160. 2007. Visited on 23rd November 2019.
- Scott H. Markwith, Kathleen C. Parker. Conservation of Hymenocallis coronaria genetic diversityin the presence of disturbance and a disjunct distribution. Conserv Genet (2007), 8:949–963DOI 10.1007/s10592-006-9249-z. Visited on 23rd November 2019.
Landsford Canal State Park lilies on the map
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|Location, GPS coordinates:||34.7768 N 80.8752 W|
|Where is located?||North America, United States, South Carolina, Chester and Lancaster Counties, Landsford Canal State Park|
|Area:||approximately 100 ha|
|Dominating species:||Shoals spider lily (Hymenocallis coronaria)|
Venture off the beaten path to forgotten roads, where a hidden South Carolina exists. Time-travel and dead-end at a ferry that leads to wild islands. Cross a rusting steel truss bridge into a scene from the 1930s. Behold an old gristmill and imagine its creaking, clashing gears grinding corn. See an old gas pump wreathed in honeysuckle. Drive through a ghost town and wonder why it died. When’s the last time you saw a country store’s cured hams hanging from wires? How about a vintage Bull Durham tobacco ad on old brick? Tom Poland explores scenic back roads that lead to heirloom tomatoes, poke salad, restaurants once gas stations, overgrown ruins and other soulful relics.
Book by Milks, Diane, Lambert, Yon, Pettus, Louise, Price, Bill.