Rare shoals spider-lily is a stunning sight

For a couple of weekends each May, Stephen Johnson invites the public to his wooded property along Flat Shoals Creek in Harris County to see the blooms of one of Georgia’s most stunning wildflowers, the rare shoals spider-lily.

To see the flower during a visit last weekend, we walked a wooded path to an opening in the woods along the creek. An amazing sight greeted us — dense colonies of the striking, white-flowered, 3-foot tall lily seemingly bursting from the rocks of the swift-flowing stream.

“It takes my breath away,” said my wife, Laura.

The shoals spider-lily, which blooms only in mid- to late May, grows exclusively in the rock crevices of sunny, shallow, fast-flowing, unpolluted streams in the Piedmont and upper Coastal Plains regions.

A quarter-mile stretch of Flats Shoal Creek, which runs through Johnson’s property near the Alabama border, meets the requirements. It harbors Georgia’s largest population of the lily. The state’s only other sizable populations are in the Flint and Broad rivers.

Elsewhere, other populations are in the Catawba River in South Carolina and in the Cahaba River in Alabama (where the plant is known as the Cahaba lily.)

Because of its rarity, the lily is being considered for the federal Endangered Species list. It once was more common, but large swaths of its habitat were submerged under huge lakes created by damming of rivers. Also, siltation from development, farming and logging has taken a toll in other rivers.

Early American naturalist William Bartram, who first saw the lily in the Savannah River near Augusta in 1783, praised its pleasing odor. Especially strong at night, the fragrance readily attracts pollinators to its big blooms, which last only a day. Its pecan-size seeds sink into rock crevices in the shoals and germinate there instead of floating into deeper water, where they would die.

A retired high school science teacher from West Point, Johnson fulfilled a longtime dream in 2008 when he signed conservation easements with the Nature Conservancy of Georgia and the Wilderness Network of Georgia to protect his 323-acre estate and its shoals spider-lilies from development. Even so, he fears that new development on the perimeter of his property may threaten the plant.

In the sky: The moon will be first-quarter Thursday, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Mercury is low in the west just after dark. Venus rises out of the east about two hours before dawn. Mars rises out of the east just before sunset. Jupiter is low in the southwest at dusk and sets in the west a few hours later. Jupiter will appear near the moon in Saturday night's sky. Saturn rises out of the east at sunset.