South Carolina festival celebrates rare rocky shoals spider lilies

Last summer, someone pulled a kayak out of the Congaree River at the landing on the West Columbia Riverwalk. The boat was so full of rocky shoals spider lily plants that they spilled over the sides as the paddler made his way up the steps.

River advocates heard the story and wanted to cry. They hope a new festival that will start on Saturday will raise awareness of the rare plants and prevent such devastating harvests.

The festival grew out of the re-licensing of the Columbia Canal hydroelectric plant, owned by the city of Columbia and operated by SCE&G. In granting the license, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required public outreach programs related to the river, said SCE&G engineer Jim Devereaux.

Rocky shoals spider lilies — scientifically known as Hymenocallis coronaria — grow naturally only where rivers flow over rocky shelves. Those spots also are perfect for dams and canals. Man’s manipulation of the rivers in the 1800s and 1900s wiped out prime spider lily habitat. By the turn of the 21st century, only a few healthy populations survived in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

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